All summer long, the place we heard the most about was this city called Baraboo, a place in Wisconsin, situated in the shadow of the Dells - a tourist trap with gift shops, a wax museum and two miniature golf courses for every man, woman and child counted toward the city's population. It's a place of grotesquely manufactured entertainment and leisure that it breeds, in the good folks of Baraboo, something like hatred for it. They love their town for every way that it's not alike.
They prefer a place that, from all the accounts that we were hearing, must have a magical spring and the sky that it holds above it must serve only this one particular destination. With that aerial privilege certainly must come some kind of special beauty - a night sky that contains the most lustrous and heavenly dusting of stars and their constellations that anyone could ever wish to gaze upon. It must create storms that energize. The blizzards there must be quite phenomenal and when the winds heave their ways through, that must be when the prayers of the sailors are answered, even if they're without a boat or the water to place one on.
For, without it needing to make too much sense, the idea of the kids of the extraordinary (yes, abso-fucking-lutely extraordinary!) band PHOX as sailors strikes me as interesting, if not simply romantic and curious. Each of the players in this band from Baraboo - Monica Martin, Matt Holmen, Sean Krunnfusz, Dave Roberts, Matt Roberts and Che Van Huss - contribute so much to the texture of each of these nuanced, spectacularly arranged and interesting songs that we feel as if they're each chartering us on individual cruises that we would never have anticipated. They are equal parts and still, it's lead singer Martin who takes it all over the top, making every story feel as if it's one of those dreamy and vibrant tales that come from the notebooks of Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Her voice - smoked perfectly at the corners - is a tremendous weapon that sounds as if it's known enough wonders and enough sadness to know the difference and the vast number of similarities. Along with that distinction, she has a way of portraying the beauty in lives that skirt the difference - ones that are ultimately wondrous when dunked in just enough sadness.
These songs could only come from a place that's banked on its sides, but the shadows and the shade trees. It could only come from a group of people who describe themselves as "blessed with madness, illusions of grandeur and the inability to do the same thing twice." Martin sings that "revelry is my goddamned right" and it certainly seems so. These songs cover a wide spectrum of the very things that make us feel electrified and those that make us feel as if we're as hollow as an old tree that's been turned into a hazard. There are crying jags and there the sweet words that are either left on the table or come too little, too late. It's the way you live when you're involved with your circumstances, when you're familiar with your shadows. It's when you know that you can't banish them, but you can rescue as much of the good light, as much of the levity, as much of the warming drink and the loving embraces out of the jaws of those shadows.
*Essay originally published November, 2012