Mainframe is the 5th studio album from Miami rock ensemble phoenix/NEBULIN, and from the offset – the sheer level of experience and creative drive is detectable in just about every way.
Play Pretend is the opener and kicks things off in a complex, colourful, detailed manner. The high energy of the guitar riffs, the bass, the drums, the melody lines, and indeed the contrast between the weight of the distortion and the lighter sound of certain synths and the leading vocalist’s own delivery – it all makes for something that soaks you in fresh creativity and impressive musicianship.
Things continue in a fairly similar way, though from one track to the next something completely new and unexpected emerges, including but far from limited to a touch of electronic influence. Purge Create Destroy Rebuild is a huge song that frequently crosses the boundaries between certain sub-genres. The melody is bright and ever-evolving, as is the instrumentation. The story line draws your attention, and yet surprisingly – certain lines linger in your mind in the way that a more mainstream, pop single might.
As things progress, the electronic rock tones of the project shine a little more brightly – the energy seems to grow and grow, despite the opening moments feeling just about as fast paced and vibrant as could be. Reset #1076 is striking, it utilises space effectively to create a powerful contrast within the structure, so the hook section hits with almighty impact.
Omegaworks brings the raw passion of the industrial rock sound with a heavy driving bass line and an overwhelming thickness that arrives at just the right moment within the collection. Songs like this really lay bare the emotional intensity of the leading voice and the lyricism. Nothing you’ll hear will feel overly familiar or common – these concepts are interesting and have been approached in a fascinating, intriguing way. A superb, free-flowing guitar solo adds immensely to the atmospheric ambiance on this one.
A touch of melodic or manic indie-rock comes through with Shadow Wolf, infectious riffs and a general wash of heavy musicality surround and soak you. Hollowed Out City Limits follows with a certain cool and even quirky disposition. The whispered verses again showcase a brilliant awareness of what works in composition – the contrast is powerful, so the later sections really grab you. Toy Soldiers follows, a song that begins with a familiar snippet of something from yesteryear. What emerges therein is a surprisingly delicate and even heart melting performance and song that beautifully captivate with their gradually rising passion.
Perfect is gorgeous, perhaps it’s the placement of this within the collection – the previous song prepares you perfectly. What works about it is the heavy wash of music from the start – the emotional weight of the chord progression, the dedication and vulnerability expressed within the lyrics. This is perhaps one of the more mainstream feeling tracks of the project; it comes as a welcome moment that satisfies effectively. Following this, Professional Liar sounds incredible – the return of the fast paced, musically flawless, raucous energy from earlier on. The instrumentation, the melody, the additional vocals; the song gives off a huge feeling of togetherness, which again contrasts with the underlying concept of the lyrics, creating this bizarrely addictive few minutes of movement that really hold you captive.
Alone takes the electronic delicacy to a hypnotic level, though not without the volume and power of hard-rock alongside it. The band know how to craft music that mesmerizes and satisfies. Their lyrics remain very honest, revealing, unfiltered perhaps – and their music remains incredibly skillful and creative. It makes for a massively impressive combination.
Thorazine takes things in a slightly new direction, the simplicity of a haunting riff is slowly accompanied by these intense, electronic moments, which really help bring the essence of this instrumental piece to life. It’s an entrancing few minutes of audio-escapism and well worth listening to three or four times over to fully get lost in the music.
Things come to a close with Equation, a song that arrives as something of an acoustic indie-rock ballad with just a hint of that authentic heaviness and realness to keep the phoenix/NEBULIN thread alive. It’s a beautiful song, really powerful, a brilliant choice for the finisher and a final reminder of the creativity, the passion, the truth and the humanity, that has lead to the crafting of this entire album. phoenix/NEBULIN are an incredible band, they do what they do with absolute conviction and power and it makes for a stunning playlist – the sort you can return to again and again; whenever the noise of the world seems a little too disjointed or overwhelming.