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Phoxjaw - Royal Swan (Album Review)

Tuesday, 07 July 2020 Written by Matt Mills

If you go to the “List of rock genres” page on Wikipedia, you’ll find a whopping 249 entries. That’s how subdivided heavy music has become. What started in the ‘50s as loudness designed to piss off your parents is now a mangled family tree, full of categories so esoteric that, sometimes, only one or two bands can fit into them.

This is why Phoxjaw are so refreshing. Since forming in mid-2016, the Bristol quartet have refused to be pigeonholed. Their two EPs, ‘Goodbye Dinosaur…’ and ‘A Playground For Sad Adults’, both contain eclectic tracks that can only ever be described as “rock”. Taking cues from Britpop to metal and indie, the pair of releases have as much in common with Mastodon as they do Arctic Monkeys.

‘Royal Swan’ is its creators’ first full-length album and continues in the same vein. In fact, their debut sees Phoxjaw liberally pulling from even more sources than before.

Cuts like An Owl is a Cat With Wings and Trophies in the Attic introduce harsh, Daughters-style noise to the mix, with the latter going the extra step by contrasting it with a riff so tight and heavy it’d make Behemoth mosh.

But Phoxjaw still feel as though they’re refining their own aura. Singer Daniel Garland rarely deviates from his gritty, indie-inclined delivery, while drummer Kieran Gallop keeps his bandmates’ experimentation grounded with a straight-ahead performance. 

Furthermore, Garland’s lyrics continue to focus on human and animal rights: “We kill with guns / So let’s aim at the skies instead / As long as no sparrows fall,” the frontman hums during Triple AAA. These characterful notes are promising for the four-piece, and they’re clearly already able to excel beyond the sum of their many musical parts.

There’s only one Phoxjaw mainstay that hasn’t survived the growth and diversity of ‘Royal Swan’. Sadly, it’s a big one: the strength of their choruses. When it comes to melody, these 11 songs are hit and miss. Although Infinite Badness and lead single Half House emerge unscathed as enjoyable singalongs, the more overt discordance of The Monk and You Don’t Drink A Unicorn’s Blood damages their hooks.

Garland once described his band as owing a lot to the pop savviness of the Beatles and Beach Boys, and while those influences are still in play here, they’re not emphasised enough to fully balance out the more abrasive edge.

As a result, ‘Royal Swan’ isn’t quite Phoxjaw at their most enchanting. But what it is is Phoxjaw at their most impressive and unpredictable. These West Country lads are as unique as can be and feel destined to win the hearts of heavy music’s more forward-thinking followers. There are 249 rock genres out there, and not one of them can properly sum up this lot.

Phoxjaw Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 16 2021 - BIRMINGHAM Victoria, Birmingham
Wed February 17 2021 - BRISTOL Rough Trade Records
Thu February 18 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON Heartbreakers
Sat February 20 2021 - LEICESTER Cookie
Sun February 21 2021 - MANCHESTER Manchester Gullivers
Mon February 22 2021 - YORK Fulford Arms
Tue February 23 2021 - NORTH SHIELDS Tynemouth Surf Cafe
Thu February 25 2021 - GLASGOW Attic Bar - Glasgow Garage
Sat February 27 2021 - STOKE Sugarmill
Sun February 28 2021 - NORWICH Waterfront

Click here to compare & buy Phoxjaw Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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