There’s nothing like the magical alchemy of a well put together mixtape. The novelty of the mix has taken hold of music once again. Late Night Tales, The Trip, DJ Kicks and various other mixes have been commissioned and released with respected artists at the reigns, picking and choosing their personal favorites. Other than maybe Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey’s Trip compilation, I haven’t been as impressed by a series of songs as much as I have been with Phoenix’s Kitsuné Tabloid. The French label, known mostly for electronic compilations, recruited Thomas Mars and Laurent Brancowitz, two pop masterminds from Phoenix, to put together some records from their past and present that is truly representative of life-changing music. And, as one would expect from true music lovers, the mix spreads across a broad spectrum of era, style and genre, and is essential listening for any music connoisseur worth their salt.
The majority of the tracks on Tabloid, released just a few weeks prior to the heralded new album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, are from the ’60s and ’70s, showing that these thirty-somethings were both paying attention in their youths, and have a sense of history. In other words, they’re not “Too Young.” Anyone looking to glean influences on the band’s sound might be stretching a bit, as no one artist or song represented here can be said to be a direct influence on Phoenix. In fact, as most reviews will have you believe, Phoenix has a very ’80s inspired sound, but Mars and Brancowitz have only two songs from that decade represented, neither one of them exhibiting the `Phoenix’ DNA, in Elvis Costello’s sober and lyrically brilliant “Shipbuilding” and Tangerine Dream’s Risky Business soundtrack feature, “Love on a Real Train.” What you do get with Tabloid is an incredible guest DJ session from a couple of guys who really know great music.
For the most part, the band chooses songs by artists with both incredible and incredibly unique voices. From the Dirty Projectors, the most recent entry on the compilation, to Chris Bell, Bryan Ferry, Elvis Costello, Roky Erikson, D’Angelo, Iggy Pop, Dusty Springfield and Lou Reed, a unique vocal bent is certainly a theme running through the album. One would get the sense that Scott Walker or Antony Hegarty would fit in quite nicely on the record without interrupting the aesthetic. Another evident theme is experimentation. Urge Overkill’s “Stull (Part I)” is certainly a psychedelic bit of ’90s rock (and the ONLY representative of that decade), while Roky and the Red Krayola up the `batshit crazy’ ante. Certainly, Phoenix may be introducing the wonderful Brazilian artist, Lô Borges, to a bunch of the unanointed.
The amazing thing about Tabloid is that with every succeeding song, you’re either saying to yourself, “Oh man, I forgot about this track. I love this song!” or alternately, “Who the fuck is this? I have to get this album!” Phoenix even throws in a few lost gems, such as Dennis Wilson’s gorgeously orchestrated “Lady (Falling in Love),” a track that has only appeared previously on bootlegs. One thing is for sure; I’m probably going to be expanding my music collection thanks to Phoenix’s playlist. Due to their eclectic and impeccable tastes, I’m going to have to pick up more albums by the Impressions, Irma Thomas, Tangerine Dream, and probably everything recorded by D’Angelo. Not only that, but Phoenix are pretty darn good sequencers, too! The bookends of “Love Theme from Kiss” and Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” provide a nice little bow to wrap up this highly pleasurable package.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has had so much critical attention and praise, even before its official release, that many can’t wait for the album to drop. Their appearance on SNL was pretty darn cool, with the band playing singles, “Lisztomania” and “1901” before playing “Too Young” when they were cut off by network timing. Those who are dying from the long wait should at least pick up this incredible compilation, which is, if not a fascinating look into the band’s past, at least a `greatest songs list’ from their collective iPods. It will at least tide us over by the time we get to Phoenix.
Jarvis Cocker & Steve Mackey – The Trip
Air – Late Night Tales
Belle & Sebastian – Late Night Tales