There was a kaleidoscope in my parent’s house that had these two stained-glass discs at the end of the looking piece. You could spin each one in opposite directions, and when either one moved just the slightest bit, the entire vision morphing in front of your eyes changed entirely. PHOX is reminiscent of that kaleidoscope in a way. The sextet’s distinct musical voices—that certainly comprise of more than just six instruments—create such a varied range of sounds. And as you listen to each song over the course of the band’s 12-track debut, you can hear the whimsical musical range PHOX creates just by moving the fixed parts in different ways.
Comprised of Matteo Roberts, Jason Krunnfusz, David Roberts, Monica Martin, Zach Johnston and Matthew Holmen, a group of friends from Baraboo, Wis., PHOX released its first EP called Confetti in 2013. They recorded their self-titled debut at Bon Iver’s April Base Studios in Eau Claire, and Partisan swayed them away from six other labels in a bidding war for the budding chamber-pop starlets.
So together, the sextet crafts a set of songs falling in an array of genres. Just by throwing in a not-your-father’s-Aqualung flute solo (“Shrinking Violets”) or set of woodwinds (“Noble Heart”) to the traditional rock band get-up, PHOX broadens its range from just another folk-pop group. Elsewhere, “Evil” starts with a banjo-picking lead that flirts with a big-bang style trumpet in its interlude. And the band toys with experimentalism on the six-minute “Laura,” which magically recreates the acoustics of a huge European cathedral, and the seven-minute “Raspberry Seed” that’s bolstered by a string quartet breakdown.
But one of the most prominently unifying fixtures of PHOX comes from deep in the soul of frontwoman Monica Martin. Her smoky voice serves as both the constant throughout PHOX and the motion that pushes songs in new directions. The almost a capella opener “Calico Man” focuses the attention on her, while on tracks like lead single “1936,” her layered harmonies weave into the greater instrumental collage. Although some tracks may blend together on initial listen, PHOX ultimately serves as a colorful debut from a promising young band.