First Listen: Bankrupt! by Phoenix

Parisian alt-rock band Phoenix has begun streaming in full their newest offering, Bankrupt!, on iTunes to gear up for the album’s official release on April 22. Listen to the full stream here.


Bankrupt! feels like a natural progression from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. To be fair, every album from this band always feels like a natural progression from one to the next. I have mixed feelings about this.

In United and Alphabetical, the songs feel like separate ideas for the most part, and some are clearly ahead in terms of musical and lyrical maturity — especially in United (“Too Young,” “If I Ever Feel Better”). Because of this, though, it’s easy to pick early favorites and to have other tracks grow on you over time. Each album from Phoenix is slightly more purposeful, and the band starts to hit their stride in It’s Never Been Like That, and of course, the widely-adored Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. That last album felt less like an album with a bunch of tracks and more like one really awesome song with multiple movements, and yet somehow it was hard to tire of listening to it.

Bankrupt! is similar in that the songs all seem to bleed together, but with one fundamental difference: I sort of wanted to hear a different song halfway through. It’s clearly a well-thought out project, but maybe a little overdone, as the cohesiveness so overtakes the album that it lacks the fun of its predecessors. By the end of the album, I found myself wishing for less synth and drums that didn’t sound like they were being played from another room. Perhaps the album suffers from overproduction, or perhaps this album just isn’t a first-listen-hook kind of album. Only time will tell. For now, here’s my quick and dirty track-by-track analysis:

“Entertainment”  This is by far my favorite, but I’m biased since I’ve been listening to it for longer than the other tracks. It’s got instant danceability and is a large sweeping arrangement that serves as a perfect introduction for the rest of the album. It’s a clear winner in terms of potential as a single, so I’m unsurprised that they released this one first.

“The Real Thing”  Seems to continue straight from the last song, with the same buzzing guitars and East Asian riff. It’s not the most memorable track, but it’s pleasant.

“SOS in Bel Air”  “You can’t cross the line but you can’t stop trying” — that’s a good hook. There’s a bouncy beat, it’s catchy and as is atypical of Phoenix, there’s lots of variation in rhythm and movements in a familiar pattern. It’s also a nice chance for Thomas Mars to stretch his vocal cords. This track will probably be my next favorite. However, we’re three songs in and I’m already overwhelmed by the constant presence of synth overtones. I find myself hoping that the next song takes the production down a bit.

“Trying to Be Cool”  I like the opening; it feels vaguely like a callback to some of their older stuff. Overall it’s not as interesting as “SOS in Bel Air,” but it’s a nice zone-out song.

“Bankrupt!”  The title track is definitely more meandering than some of their prior instrumentals, closer to “Love Like A Sunset Part 1” than it is to “North” (remember what I was saying about the natural progression?) It’s also the longest track on the album, clocking in at a hefty 6 mins and 57 secs. Midway through this song shifts completely into a movement that sounds like an aggressive Atari background track. I found the constant changes in the rhythmic patterns without any clear direction to be disorienting.

“Drakkar Noir” and “Chloroform”  I had to go back to figure out where the two songs split when I was listening, so I’m going to lump them together in my discussion of them. These two are the type of song where it’s going to take me multiple listens and perhaps a consultation with the album lyrics to figure out what the hell Thomas Mars is singing about. Much like the slow annoyance to the senses that its namesake provides, the synth overtones in “Drakkar Noir” start to bug me about halfway through. I need a break, and I get a bit of one by the time Chloroform’s opening kicks in. “Chloroform” is catchier than some of the earlier tracks and I think it will likely become a favorite of mine once I become more familiar with the album.

“Don’t”  I like this track a lot in terms of its structure. The beat sounds more present in this one, but it’s a trade-off, as Mars sounds like he’s singing from across a canyon during certain parts of this song.

“Bourgeois”  There’s not really a hook to this song, but I do like it. The auditory haziness that’s seemed to be the focus of this album actually fits the general mood of this song.

“Oblique City”  There’s some of the fun I was looking for! Too bad it primarily bookends the album.



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