There’s nothing phony about the groove—just, don’t tell Phony Ppl how much the album release cycle has accelerated in recent years. By the top of 2018, three years had passed since the Brooklyn-based band dropped off their well-received LP Yesterday’s Tomorrow. When they finally returned this August with cascading vocal riffs and funk-dripped keys on “Before You Get a Boyfriend,” showcasing a vast artistic development and a willingness to explore while delving into a cleaner sound, it seemed as though the wait would be well worth it. Fast forward two months, their full-length follow-up has finally arrived in mō'zā-ik, and it’s even more clear the quintet is no less capable of doing what they've always done best: make you happy, make you feel, and make you understand.
On the surface, mō'zā-ik is a sun-drenched stroll down the beach. At times it falls back into the sand to soak in the ocean breeze, and at other times it springs into the crashing waves with blissful, reckless abandon. Beneath the waters, however, there’s a deeper yearning for fulfillment, with the band questioning themselves and their love interests even as they smile their way through the turbulence. Many of the musings revolve around matters of the heart, but even on the brightest of tunes, there’s something wrong with the situation at hand—an unrequited love, a fear of commitment, or the horror of losing one’s self in the pursuit of another.
“I got you but it’s me I’m missing / You’ll agree, you’ll get it / I think I went way too far trying to please you,” lead singer Elbie Thrie reveals on opener “Way Too Far.” Dreamy, ethereal notes set up the soundscape as Thrie’s honeyed vocals soothe the listener, the band slowly building the moment behind him in tranquilizing fashion. As soon as they’ve relaxed you into an agreement, however, it’s time to start the party on “Once You Say Hello.,” with adrenaline-pumping drums and untamed melodies that race through the proverbial wilderness.
There are only a few songs on mō'zā-ik which focus on topics other than love, the most poignant of which arrives at the end of the tracklist. Sunny chords are given a dismal twang on “on everythinG iii Love.,” as Thrie sings an ode to the plethora of black men and women who have lost their lives to police brutality. His gentle crooning ties the album together on a purposeful note, revealing the deeper burdens on his mind inspiring the quest for peace throughout the project.
Structurally and sonically, there are plenty of parallels to be drawn between Yesterday’s Tomorrow and mō'zā-ik. Both albums emulate the joyous feeling of watching a young child step out into nature for the very first time, the music weaving through genres the same way the toddler weaves through the trees with an all-encompassing amazement. Still, where the previous project felt raw and adventurous, mō'zā-ik comes across as a much more refined collection of work, finding Phony Ppl sitting comfortably in their sound while still retaining their beautifully organic tone.
On “Move Her Mind.,” the band meanders through a kaleidoscope of colors that anchor them around rousing percussion from drummer Matt Byas, before reaching an exuberant peak on the chorus once the gushing instrumentation takes over. Elsewhere, like on “One Man Band.,” they minimize the drums and instead rely on lush arrangements to hold the scene, as Thrie reaches out to a fellow traveler with an invitation for her to join his journey.
When Phony Ppl fails to ascend to such vibrant pinnacles, however, the band does stumble a tad. On “the Colours.”—the longest song on the album—earthy tones and droning strings distract from the clear, cloudless progression of the album. “Think You’re Mine.” is equally plain, featuring cracking falsettos and lonely, acoustic guitar strumming, but it does fare better thanks to its format as a demo recording that operates more like an interlude than a full song.
Still, there are few faults to be found on mō'zā-ik. The album is a concise listen, one that brings plenty to the table without overloading the listener. After such an extended wait, the final product feels even more like a special occasion, thanks to the group’s willingness to develop a united project over time rather than rush out whatever was ready at an earlier moment.
Saturation is the name of the game in 2018, but it isn’t the only way to retain an audience—sometimes, careful refinement and patient growth work just as well, if not better.
Three Standout Songs
“Once You Say Hello.”
Phony Ppl could have unleashed “Once You Say Hello” into the world as an instrumental, and it would still easily rank as one of the highlights of mō'zā-ik. It’s easy to get lost in the exhilarating arrangement of chords and percussion, but the lyrics are worthy of attention as well, with the band singing of that helpless feeling of falling in love whether you want to or not.
“Move Her Mind.”
Warmth exudes from the speakers as soon as “Move Her Mind” begins, as Thrie wonders if the woman of his dreams is as brilliant as she is alluring. “What do you do, when the thing that you love is the thing that’s killing you?” he ponders on the second verse, before deciding to take the plunge and hope for the best.
“Before You Get a Boyfriend.”
Phony Ppl did well to choose “Before You Get a Boyfriend” as the lead single. Thrie masks his hesitancy to commit with witty punchlines and light-hearted metaphors that would put a smile on anyone’s face, over a filthy instrumental that will have you bobbing your head even before the verses start.
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