Detroit’s Throwaway returns and if you don’t know who that is, it’s art-rocker Kirsten Carey, the self-professed, “a woman with a paper bag over her head.” It’s been a while since we’ve heard from her – for obvious reasons – but she follows up 2019’s WHAT? with the new Hand That Takes (FPE Records). Some may be quick to label her compositions as self-indulgent noisey fuckery but it’s much more than that! The songs, the compositions, are completely enthralling, rattling across desolate streets, changing their landscape. On “Cute Frankenstein” instruments move in unison with one another and Carey capitalizes on it, waxing poetic. The feedback is entrancing with Carey singing along as dissonance fills the air. Yes, this is what we’ve been waiting for! With the frantic “Glitch Mob,” Carey and the band move psychotically but with the utmost control, paying attention to the smallest detail. Throwaway is a force to be reckoned with, she’s just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to her. Catch up motherfuckers.
While dread and fear play an ominous part in our modern-day culture, At Some Point You Stop (Phony Industries/Joyful Noise Recordings), the new release by PHONY, the moniker of Los Angeles-based Neil Berthier, seems to sidestep and eschew it altogether. But it seems we’re getting far ahead of ourselves here without any point of reference to begin with. Berthier began honing his chops in 2011 with the Louisiana punk outfit Donavan Wolfington, releasing a few albums before its ultimate demise in 2017. In 2019 PHONY released Songs You’ll Never Sing, followed by the 2020 full-length Knock Yourself Out. Now that we’re up to speed, let’s get back to the matter at hand.
As an introduction to PHONY’s sound, At Some Point You Stop never seems to reference one specific influence, moving from folk-like singer/songwriter mode to powerful pop to blissed-out anthemic rockers. Regardless, they all congeal into something quite exquisite under Berthier’s PHONY banner. The opening “Christmas Eve Day” doesn’t set the tone for the album but this is where Berthier pulls out the acoustic guitar and lays down breathy vocals. Is it safe to offer that this could be touted alongside some of the greats that came before him as well as his contemporaries? Without a doubt. The bed of picked notes, vibrating throughout, gives way to his cooing voice as the atmospheric keyboards fill any and all voids. But it’s “The Middle” that leaves listeners completely unprepared. Its catchy melody is juxtaposed with melancholic lyricism, regarding the loss of his father. It seems to work all too well together.
First and foremost, Berthier is a well-rounded songwriter, and it shows in his PHONY anthemic “Summer’s Cold” which seems to end all too quickly. What it has in its brevity, it makes up with in melody, harmony, and power. This isn’t the only moment he’s able to capitalize on it because “Great White” offers up a bit more. The shifting dynamics are subtle but they’re mixed in there, as is the shifting tempo which reverts back to the original. It may seem like a lot but it’s not and well worth an earful. But it’s PHONY’s pop sensibilities that are more than just intriguing; they’re downright captivating. “Weddings & Funeral Family” guides listeners down a different path before its subtle turn as the band’s control & contortion of the melodies here are pretty clever. Berthier’s leisurely vocal delivery here works to the song’s advantage.
For the newcomer or fans well versed in PHONY’s world, listeners will find themselves obsessed with At Some Point You Stop. PHONY’s ability to create a sonically expressive album, keeping away from outside influence isn’t easy, and this right here? It puts his contemporaries to shame. Everyone needs to up their game right about now.