Madison folk-pop band PHOX have caught the attention of music fans across the country this spring, especially at South by Southwest. They also display their creative vigor offstage, on their recent EP, Confetti.
Produced as a video EP simultaneously with the audio recording, Confetti captures PHOX's essence: the vocal tenacity and soulful swagger of singer-songwriter Monica Martin, combined with an experimental band that pair seriousness with lighthearted comedy. Thoughtfulness and playfulness take turns as each song makes way for the next.
The video EP helps listeners enjoy PHOX's music and personalities with more than one sense. It's the musical equivalent of a grindhouse movie, with purposeful randomness and sensory overload. The moments between songs are sometimes as interesting as the songs themselves.
The video's introduction states that the band "began this project as enlightened players, but by the end, we were computer eyes and winter weight, using beer-stained tripods as walking sticks to cross confetti oceans and brush our teeth in dead movie sets." This may sound ridiculously whimsical, but it actually makes sense as you watch the EP's story unfold.
It's easy to see that this project was very much a DIY endeavor. The handiwork of director and band member Zach Johnston takes center stage. Dots of multi-colored paint quickly spell out the band's name on a canvas. The music begins during a shot of the band hitting cups against a table and clapping.
For the first song, "Slow Motion," Martin sings over these homemade percussion sounds. PHOX seems more like a singer-songwriter project when the camera focuses on her. Her soulful voice commands attention as she stands by herself, singing into a vintage-looking microphone. But as the camera focuses on the rest of the band, it becomes clear that the PHOX is a tight-knit unit. Martin's singing often adopts a serious tone, which provides a contrast to the eccentric antics of her bandmates, who pull out banjos and oboes throughout the tune. But at the end of the song, she succumbs to the goofiness, joining the group in a sea of confetti.
Blue smoke billows forth as the band builds "Blue and White" to a satisfying climax. At the end of the song, the musicians head into a concert venue where they lead a pre-show chant. Confetti flies into the audience when they hit the stage.
"Bayside" finds Martin playing mandolin and guitar. She seems as if she's singing to herself as she sits in a dim, rustic room, next to a wall-length mirror that reflects the scene. This visual lends to the song's theatrical vibe. The camera pans to a faceless wooden figure, then to a piano two of Martin's bandmates are playing. A flip of a switch casts a spotlight on top of the piano, revealing the wooden figure to the musicians. It starts to dance, thanks to stop-motion animation, and Martin sings, "I can't keep my eyes off of you." It's charming and clever.
Soon the bandmates are sleeping after what appears to be a hard night of partying. One of them switches on a radio and moves through several AM radio channels. This action serves as a transition, taking the viewer into PHOX's living room for a performance of "Noble Heart." Martin does an awesome air-guitar riff, and trumpets enrich the song with their brassy timbre.
Things get a bit weird later on, when Martin paints her lips, cuts her hair and dons a black dress. But the ominous vibe dissolves into laughter as the bandmates smash cupcakes on each other to the tune of humorous sound affects.
The video EP ends with -- you guessed it -- more confetti. It's a fitting way to celebrate PHOX's hard work over the past year and a half.
PHOX will perform at the Revelry Music & Arts Festival on Saturday, May 4.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.