The Punch Brothers start this new album with a 10 minute plus song "Familiarity" which on the surface seems to mix their love of Bluegrass with an equal passion for the music of Brian Wilson. Is it all a bit too clever for its own good? Sadly the answer is yes. Those expecting a rerun of the brilliance of their last album "Who's feeling young now" will emerge a little disappointed on repeated listens when it comes to "The Phosphorescent Blues". As ever the brilliant musicianship remains on full display and the eclecticism so beloved of this band continues unabated. Yet as a developmental exercise you sense this album is a retrenchment rather than a full charge forward
The good news is that things improve considerably after the indulgence of the opener. The lovely "Julep" is light and airy and showcases the totality of bands talents, whilst "Boil Weevil" sees them head back to that raucous Appalachian style stomper that they absolutely nail with ease. Other tracks here worthy of investigation include "Passepied," which is a rather nice Debussy cover which demonstrates the width of the bands musical preoccupations. Similarly the aching heartbreak country ballad "Little Lights" is an absolute standout and the type of music Sufjan Stevens used to monopolise. If only therefore the band could reign in the need to constantly demonstrate the reach of their musical ambition the result would far happier. All the great technical skills on display cannot hide the complete absence of a worthy melody on songs like "Between first and A" or the fact that once you hear tracks like "My or My" you admire the variety and experimentation but you really have no desire to press the repeat button.
Apologies for pouring some bad vibes on this album. This reviewer has bored friends and acquaintances over the past two years surrounding the wonders of "Who's Feeling Young Now" and berated their lack of understanding when they did not get it. As such "The Phosphorescent Blues" is a bit of a let down when judged against these high standards with no tracks coming any where near the class of a "Movement and location" or the cleverness of their cover of Radiohead's "Kid A". This is not to say that this new album should not be explored, this band deserve wider exposure and even in a mixed bag there is enough to richly reward. Hopefully the positive from this is the foundation for a future album of unmitigated brilliance which the Punch Brothers have the innate ability to deliver at some point - but not quite yet.
Review by Red on Black