ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Phideaux - 2011 - "Snowtorch"

(44:46, ‘Bloodfish’)



1.  Snowtorch-I 19:42
2.  Helix 5:54
3.  Snowtorch-II 16:28
4.  Untitled 2:40


Phideaux Xavier – ac. guitar; piano; lead vocals 
Rich Hutchins – drums 
Mathew Kennedy – bass 
Gabriel Moffat – el. guitar
Mark Sherkus – keyboards
Valerie Gracious – vocals 
Molly Ruttan – vocals
Linda Ruttan – vocals
Ariel Farber – vocals; violins
John Unicorn – keyboards; saxophone; vocals

Prolusion. PHIDEAUX is one of the most talented as well as fruitful contemporary American art-rock outfits. It was formed in the autumn of 2001 by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Xavier Phideaux (pronounces as ‘Zav’e Fido: I think the man’s ancestors are French Canadians by origin). “Snowtorch” is its eighth album to date, issued in 2011. The ensemble’s section on this site, with ratings and links to reviews of all of its other outings, can be entered by clinking here.

Analysis. If some of these musicians’ preceding releases exceed one hour in length, this one fully suits the traditional LP format, within which, metaphorically speaking, they appear as at home as a fish in the water, marking their first ever attempt at large-scaled, more than merely suite-like, compositional formations that would constitute most of a complete musical endeavor. Looking back to Phideaux’s previous creations, there are surprisingly few tracks here – in fact four, including the terrific two-act performance Snowtorch, which runs for over 36 minutes, thus forming an album within an album. What we get with it musically is superb retro Progressive with an array of analog keyboards, extended instrumental sections, dynamic contrasts, tight ensemble interplay and harmonic variations – vocals included. What we also get is, on the one hand, the mature influence of mid-‘70s Genesis (on both parts of the epic) and, on the other, an increased quantity of the band’s own new ideas, such as the all-guns-blazing Prog-Metal-evoking arrangements within the second fifth of Part II or the invigorative folk-tunes on the largely acoustic piece Untitled. The classic art-rock-meets-rock opera concept is almost everywhere on the epic, with vintage rock instrumentation often augmented by chamber one (courtesy of violins in particular), Xavier’s singing, as well as frequent vocal contribution from other, male and female, vocalists – hence a sense of Rock Opera. In each of the epic’s parts, there are plenty of inventive arrangements and ear-friendly doses of vocal harmonies sure to please fans of the band ‘along’ with all those who’re generally into Symphonic Progressive. Xavier has a pleasant voice (as always), whether going it alone or in harmonies with other singers. Traditionally, within the moves with his vocals and piano at their basis the music is a bit reminiscent of Procol Harum and Alan Price, at their best. It needs to be specifically mentioned that Xavier is also a very gifted lyricist – for those who care about words. In this respect, the vocal-based arrangements perhaps serve the album’s overall direction more dutifully, but I find the purely instrumental ones a bit more to my liking nonetheless, due to their higher diversity in particular. On the other hand, even at its most intimate moments the music sounds grounded and unsentimental, which to a greater degree is due to the serious, at times deeply philosophic, lyrics, such as in case of Helix, the remaining track. It has a classic sympho-prog feeling too, but not as strikingly compared to the other compositions, which is partly because it’s heavier in vocals than either of those, and partly because a couple of its sections are atmospheric rather than purely symphonic in nature, both a bit reminiscent of Eloy’s quieter space-rock landscapes with only female singers involved. As a curtain falls, I’d like to note that each part of the epic is a masterpiece of instrumental and vocal arrangement, and the other songs sound fresh, Untitled in particular, despite the fact that that they are also almost instantly accessible. However, there is an absolute winner. In my honest opinion, Snowtorch-II best of all accentuates the band’s unique compositional voice, also demonstrating its ability to synthesize or even fully dissolve their influences in their own musical concoction.

Conclusion. From the very beginning of the album you can hear the debt to the past. However, “Snowtorch” is in no way a nostalgia journey. This is beautiful, imaginative music that rocks. Strong themes, memorable melodies and the ensemble’s spirited and energetic playing make this disc a must have and one of the best prog rock albums of 2011.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: April 7, 2012
The Rating Room

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