phox has been a staple of the indie music diet in wisconsin for the past two years, but it’s taken the rest of the world a bit longer to catch on. armed with two eps and a full-length of varying production qualities, phox won over audiences with the combination of monica martin’s powerful voice and the fastidious arrangements that supported it. by the time last year’s confetti ep dropped, it was clear that phox was a force that deserved to be reckoned with on a larger scale; sure enough, the baraboo sextet started receiving attention from npr for their well-crafted indie folk jaunts and eventually got picked up by partisan records, who have backed the band’s self-titled major-label debut. if the twelve songs on phox sound familiar to steadfast listeners, that’s because many of them are re-recorded centerpieces of previous releases.
of course, there are two sides to this apparent problem. the not-so-good side is that only five new tunes turn up on phox and that they pad the beginning and end of the album, perhaps suggesting that they were written out of necessity and not creativity. the songs that have long defined phox are bookended by “slow motion” and “shrinking violets” – two of the best tracks in the band’s arsenal – while “noble heart” functions as an outlier. the other side of the coin is that all songs, both new and old, benefit immensely from pristine studio treatment; while the overall structures of the established songs don’t change, they are enhanced greatly by subtle adjustments and changes to the arrangements, like the more insistent percussion on “slow motion” and the guitar lines that cut more clearly on “laura.”
in the long run, it’s better to focus on the latter of those two sides. phox is an unquestionably talented young band finally getting the stage they deserve, so it only makes sense that they would choose to showcase a distillation of the best work they’ve already created. besides, it turns out that the new tunes on phox are more than just padding; “raspberry seed” is the most sprawling cut on the album and effortlessly details nearly every timbral trope associated with the band, and “in due time” is a succinct closing number that finds martin singing completely unabashed and with earnest. for first-time listeners, phox will prove to be a whirlwind experience of sounds and emotions, one that only occasionally drags or becomes too self-involved. for long-time patrons, this is the collection of high fidelity phox recordings that you’ve probably been waiting for.