Pop has been getting up to some very interesting things of late. Yes, there is still the obvious, high gloss, production line, pop by numbers that feeds the needs of the music industry and the chart system, but there is also a growing alternative scene, one that mixes the best of the underground with the potential of the mainstream. Phoenix O’Neill fits very much into this new movement. For whilst the music she makes falls easily into the genre, it is what she blends it with that makes it a refreshing change.
As always the song that is possibly the least obvious of the four included here is the one that intrigues me the most and Alien is a deft blend of chilled late night vibes, shimmering electronic beats and orchestral sweeps, hazy sonic backdrops and gorgeous vocals. I’ve long been an advocate of modern pop becoming influenced by older and more alternative dream-pop forces. Keep the production values and infectiousness of the modern sound but soften its edges and haze things out a bit with some dreaming musical spires and ethereality that the likes of Kate Bush and a whole host of more underground eighties acts worked with so well. Do that and you have a sound which has the ability to be both commercial and cultish, cool enough for the discerning pop fan and addictive enough to pick up the commercial pop dollar. Do that and you have a great track but one that doesn’t play by the rules.
Cruel World is probably the more natural heart of the EP, a slow burning reflection on some previous tough times that the artist experienced, a masterful example of restraint and understatement, of how to build a song out of only what is really necessary, the voice and the heart, the memory and an intimate connection with the listener, revelling in space and atmosphere as much as sound and beat. I Need You and I Feel It are more obvious approaches to the task at hand, though they seem to exist at the opposite ends of the dance floor dynamic, one the party starter, the other the wind down to chill out mode.
Phoenix O’Neill hasn’t come to save pop music, she has come to destroy it and build something new from the rubble, or at least leave a musical diagram for others to follow. Out of The Ashes is a totally infectious collection, simple, beguiling, effortlessly cool but generally sitting in the shadowed corner of clubland rather than posing under the neon lights of the dance floor. It is a vision of what might come to pass, a thorn in the side of those still trying to force pop down the same pathways and it does all of this probably without even knowing that it is doing so. You can only be this cool when you aren’t even trying to be cool. How cool is that?