“Phoenix: Hands on the Wheel, Casually”

So when did rock and roll become a competition? The day the music died, I guess. I was just listening though to this incredibly droll release known as Autechre’s Peel Sessions, and beyond being markedly devoid of overly chesty occidental tomfoolery, unlike most “beats”/”trip-hop” material not called Tricky or Bjork, it presents a valuable element of duality, expansion of the listening condition into multiple simultaneous realities, or distinct perceived statements. I present this as something that a band trying too hard cannot do, because with their error it becomes banally like running up a mountain — uniformity by unification, more etude than eternal. Whereas Autechre presents a sensible, balanced complexity.
Now this sort of fission of statement isn’t always necessary, for instance a band like Oxford Collapse was able to be so innocent and spontaneous as to strike the hot iron into something magnanimous in its sheer endearing simplicity. There is, though, an annoying trend in indie rock these days, and in our culture in general, of trying to outdo.
I realize competition is necessary on our streets, but this doesn’t make it an ultimate truth, because sharing is just as plausible a paradigm as ownership. It’s just that our particular country, the U.S., is based on uncertainty, roughly, and with this economy and urban implosion, the tendency for competition to pervade all walks of life has only increased. So is there a respite from this, or should there even be?
Aside from O.C., which as it were broke up in 2009, enter Phoenix. If you please, not that the Wolfgang-esque preceding tracks are insufficient at all, switch straight to the titled track, number five. Competition meets retreat, and Autechre’s plurality of perspective fully onhand. It’s catharsis of the most composed, sophisticated and beautiful kind.
As for the rest of Bankrupt!, it’s debatable at best whether there’s a track matching the poignancy of “Girlfriend” from WAP. But that’s the thing, this is a good thing. Because that was a near-perfect album, and now what we have is a good-to-somewhat-great one, and refreshingly, one where Phoenix keeps the style constant but turns up the manifest gratitude for the craft, forging sundry doglegs/crest/valley turns into various songs.
Glistening percussion and sneeringly cool vocals keep the dish spicy throughout Bankrupt! All this, to my ear, without ever overextending, or seeing a single dollar or stroke of the percussive paw go to waste. These are veterans still operating under the economic ethos of Nirvana’s Bleach, and it’s proof that music is not product, or even, really, an achievement, as our culture understands these things, but a core of a chosen moment, a hand on the wheel. So if they may, Phoenix, with masterful Wolfgang followup Bankrupt!, would like to remind you that life isn’t always being better or worse than the guy next to you, and that at its roots, rock and roll is solace, free of the moral assertions of strife.

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