“Between the curious moments of calm and the brazen rackets, Royal Swan’s nail biting narrative is an extraordinary proving ground for the modern minstrels.”
WORDS BY ALI GRICE
Let it be known that Phoxjaw are in a league of their own. Untethered by convention, their twisting and turning guitar-driven rock has flung them from pub gigs to supporting Loathe in just a matter of years, whipping up a frenzy with their frantic, satirical sounds. Recorded at Devil’s Bridge Cottage in Wales, and influenced by the Pagan and spiritual world they had come to inhabit, Royal Swan is the product of serendipitous geography and an obsession with experimentation. Somehow equally charming and alienating, Phoxjaw’s seminal album is an expertly paced lesson in modern rock. Journeying through the soaring peaks of Triple AAA to the cavernous wonders of An Owl is a Cat with Wings, the adventurous Bristol quartet are quite unforgettable.
Throwing us headfirst into the ethereal wilderness of Phoxjaw’s collective headspace is Charging Pale Horses. A lucid prologue composed of spiralling choral vocals and thrilling ambience, setting an uncanny tone for the anthemic Trophies in the Attic.
The swinging Bats for Bleeding taps into Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino-era Arctic Monkeys, leaning on wavering synth melodies to steer the songs through a wake of distorted guitar, ending with an astonishing hammered organ solo from William Blair, formerly of psychedelic 80s group Apple Mosaic.
Trophies in the Attic and You Don’t Drink a Unicorn’s Blood trumpets Phoxjaw’s nu-metal tendencies, with Wes Borland-esque discordant riffs, interspersed with tempo shifting breakdowns exploring only the first few frets. The colloquial absurdity of the lyrics “Oh well it’s an order of chain/ You chat out your well-groomed mouth dentist/ So here’s a body of singers/ For the giraffes tied in knots” unexpectedly draw your attention to the sharp instrumentation, highlighting the subtle textures of layered synths and nuances in each guitar melody.
From the positively poppy moments of Triple AAA and Half House, to the darker moments of Infinite Badness, we are truly blessed with the enchanting shouts of vocalist Danny Garland, soaring from panicked cries to his sharp, gravelly drones. His performance throughout Royal Swan is unparalleled, and no aspect of his voice has gone untapped.
This is an album of overwhelming outros. The eerily beautiful songs are drawn out with an enormous uproar, bringing the subdued chaos to a cacophonous conclusion whilst paying homage to the thematic development of the track. Infinite Badness indulges us with 90 seconds of thick resounding chords, floating to claustrophobic crescendo as Kieran Gallop slams his sticks to the flirty riffs of Josh Gallop and Alexander Share.
Where Royal Swan really comes into its own is the fluidity of the entire composition. All these songs belong on this album, and sitting in exactly this order. Standalone singles Half House and Triple AAA will no doubt be crowd pleasers, but not without the contrast of reflective Teething and the accompanying anxious energy it encapsulates. They perfectly explore the heavier elements of their unique sound with and know when to cut back and let Garland’s wounded soliloquy.
Between the curious moments of calm and the brazen rackets, Royal Swan’s nail biting narrative is an extraordinary proving ground for the modern minstrels. The trials and tribulations of Medieval England are not often explored in modern music, however with an insatiable imagination, Phoxjaw have created a timeless masterpiece. This is a record to listen to loud.