Phoenix York creates ambient sound records, creating the sensation of being trapped in a bathroom with a friendly man who wants to play you his synthesiser. This album, his first, has moments of post-rock and an almost orchestral feel in parts, using found sounds, a guitar and a sampler. Perfect for bath time.
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‘Godspeed Phuong’ is filled with people and their voices, asking questions and wincing in pain, enduring and questioning the ambient violence that Phoenix York has conducted. The voice of Melanie Antrom, which appears on “Imperial Affliction”, is the record’s centrepiece. It’s the Greek Chorus of York’s work, commentating on what his sounds are supposed to be doing to us: “Do you ever feel their hands wrapped around your heart?”, she asks, probing with the same slithering unease that the noisy bluster around her is conjuring. This is not a safe landscape, she implies -- but you can already hear the fear running through York’s music.
There’s a sense of place to and movement to York’s music, and ‘Godspeed Phuong’ is a far cry from still life ambient -- unlike a lot of contemporary works, it doesn’t merely rise and fall like breathing in your sleep. Instead, York uses his sustained keys to set a foggy, somewhat industrialised scene that recalls Tim Hecker’s early clash of sounds on ‘Mirages’ -- the sounds constantly interact in ugly and routine ways that we never dare to think about. He then adds guitars that graft and grimace at the prospect of conflict. Above all else, it’s an uncanny sound that York makes -- it occurs between inaction and action, at the point of waiting for a terrifying outcome, but never actually encountering it.
The soft, near inaudible vocal samples that connect “Quietus” to “Quezon City” are indicative of the record’s unsettling atmosphere: they’re echoed and pulled apart to sound as if they’re been long forgotten, like the people behind them were crying out for help but now live under the ground. “Quezon City” lurches around a pretty picture, but it becomes a melancholic soundscape with wisps of truly scary drone and chiming percussion. You never hear these sounds for long enough to know for sure if they were there or not, but that’s the nature of life that ‘Godspeed Phuong’ seems to be getting at: nature is at its most scary when it’s manipulating us, revisiting our clearest memories and changing their very essence. There’s no such thing as a still life piece of art, because the world is never still.
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