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PHNX - EP Review: PHNX

11 Mar 2024 // A review by Steve Shyu

Aotearoa, look out for a rising star on the horizon.

Under his stage name PHNX, 18-year-old singer-songwriter and producer Phoenix Simpson has released his self-titled debut EP and it’s a gem. And I don’t generally give praise this high so early in a review!

A couple of years back, PHNX linked up with producer, musician, and songwriter Dave Johnston, known for his work in Villainy, n1ghtmar3cat, Delivery Boyz and loads more. They’ve announced that this new batch of works is sure to turn heads and dazzle listeners, and they have certainly hit both marks.

The nine-track EP begins with We Can Fly and Alive, two connected pieces where the former flows into song two. It’s a dance-pop piece based around a simple one-two stomp beat, then filled with delightful electronic effects, and PHNX’s mellow, youthful vocals flourish throughout. Melodies soar as the energy of the songs ebb and flow, from dreamy choruses to bouncy lilts of the verses.

At the onset of the EP, one can hear the high-quality production; the days of scratchy, unpolished bedroom recordings are well and truly gone. Technology wins, and between Dave and PHNX, they’ve certainly made the most of it.

In My Dreams and That’s All We Know are another two songs that flow into one another, and we hear more of the electro-pop signalled by the first two tracks. The latter actually bears a few resemblances to Where Are U Now by Diplo, Skrillex and Justin Bieber, in particular a couple of the samples and electronic effects. There are loads of bouncy grooves, with even more vocal hooks than the tracks prior. Light hip-hop beats and acoustic guitar notes give way to skittering hi-hats, bass drops and fluid synth lines, traversing a dynamic aural fiesta.

One key track that deserves everyone’s attention is Running. It’s got it all. As an electro-pop tune, it ticks boxes, and still has more to offer. With twitchy, catchy choruses, hooks and melodies abound, there’s even a solid, driving rhythm, somewhat reminiscent of industrial rock. Then there’s the hyper-juicy synth to round out the song with muscle, with a grit-filled oily quality to it, akin to sounds employed by modern producers like Zedd or The Glitch Mob. This adds a uniqueness to the music, and certainly tickles my fancy, as I personally love a bit of beefiness with my electronic music. Oh, and did I mention there’s also a breakdown? I struggle to recall the last time I heard one in a pop tune.

There is some songwriting magic that happens in the synthpop number Staying Together, where the three-minute composition is paced perfectly, it feels neither too long nor too short. Subtle things like shifting rhythms, layering of vocals, adding effects to create different atmospheres between verses, all contribute to making a tune engaging and fascinating to listen to. There’s also numerous 80’s synthpop fingerprints throughout, the keyboards and synthesised bass all invoking A-ha vibes, adding a slight nostalgic flair.

Like many of the tracks on this EP, Standing There acts as an interlude to the subsequent song. This one, however, actually could stand on its own as a drum & bass tune, with its broken beats, skittering high-hats and sole vocal sample echoing. There is potential for this one to be reworked as a full electronic piece, or as a remix, as it only spans ninety seconds but is a highly enjoyable little number.

It’s remarkable how the individual components of each song all serve a purpose. The shuffling percussions that support a vocal flow; the revert of synths boosting the ceiling of a grand atmosphere; the clicks that lead a listener into a chorus. Having reviewed Dave Johnson’s side project [n1ghtmar3cat], it’s safe to say some of PHNX’s production was influenced by Dave himself, nailing the mark and ensuring the end result is a high-enjoyable piece of electro-pop.

Needless to say, the music speaks for itself. It’s an incredible achievement and an impressive debut. The logical next step is to win crowds over in the flesh. In my way of hearing music, I often envisage a physical aspect to a piece of music or album, or how the music could serve as a soundtrack to something visual. Listening to PHNX, it was unshakeable to picture this in a live setting in a giant venue, with a massive crowd all dancing and singing, as lights and screens flashing away in time with the music.

The songwriting is there, the vocal performance is great, the production quality is superb. There is a huge amount of potential, and tapping into it by translating it into live performances will undoubtedly take these songs to the next level.

PHNX’s career may be in its infancy, but with Dave Johnston’s guidance, there is reason to believe PHNX could be Aotearoa’s next big pop artist.

Nowadays, I use these following words sparingly, and reserve them for artists or bands that sound promising or have created something truly unique:

Watch this space.

 

About PHNX

PHNX, the alias of 18-year-old Kiwi singer-songwriter and producer Phoenix Simpson, combines elements of Pop, EDM, and sound design to create a unique musical flavor with his self-titled debut EP. Learning instruments and singing from the early age of four, and developing production skills in Ableton Live from age 12, PHNX represents the new age of producer-composers.

In 2021, PHNX joined forces with multi-genre producer, performer, and songwriter Dave Johnston (Villainy, n1ghtmar3cat, Delivery Boyz, The Zoup, MISSY). The pair have been working together to develop a backlog of unreleased music and new collaborations. The stunning results of their work are sure to turn heads, and it's clear that PHNX is an artist to watch.

The album PHNX is written and produced by Phoenix Simpson and Dave Johnston, and draws inspiration from artists such as The Weeknd, Flume, Tame Impala, and Pink Floyd. The album brings a new energy that will draw you in for repeat listens and leave you itching for more.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for PHNX

Releases

PHNX
Year: 2023
Type: Album

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