Sunday, December 9, 2007

CD Review: Philo's "Self Destruction In Dark"

by Dave Schaefer

Philo had what was essentially a debut performance on December 1 at their CD release event at a packed Skully’s. Rarely does a local band that has barely even graced a stage together garner such anticipation, but such is Philo.

Their performance was what was expected -- which, considering how high those expectations were, was fairly impressive. Apart from a technical glitch that caused them to lose power just as their intro was building, and Butch seemingly unhappy with the tuning of his bass, the show was nearly flawless. As much as Corbin doesn’t consider himself a singer, he’s damn good at it. Not only that, but it matches the tonal and lyrical content of the songs incredibly well -- caught in a space somewhere between screaming and crooning. It works.

I was able to pick up a copy of “Self Destructive In Dark (Part 1)” at the show and I found it to be highly listenable.

At first, I was struck by a few of the songs, dismissed others, and felt that overall, the disc was promising.

But then I hung out with it for a few days. And I began to be drawn into the milieu that Philo paints in sound and lyric. The collection of songs became a fascinating, multi-layered bit of storytelling that I couldn’t as quickly dismiss. This is not a pop album filled with danceable tracks, nor is it dark alt-rock -- it falls somewhere in between, but then unexpectedly jogs off to the side.

The production of the CD has to be noted. It has a well-built sound that has multiple depths but at the same time isn’t overdone. You get the feel that it’s more reproduced than produced -- there are no gimmicks and nothing about it seems pretentious. It leaves you with the unmistakable impression that this is Philo, not what some producer thinks Philo should sound like.

Here’s a song-by-song rundown of their 6-song CD, “Self Destructive In Dark (Part 1)”:

Aqua Morning
Mixing depth and danceability, this track works well as the intro to Philo. The transitions of simplicity into power intro into the emotional thrust of the vocal and lyrical content is a good audio picture of the band. The song is filled with great hooks that stick in your head. Although the old-school fade-out at the end isn’t very satisfying, it’s certainly forgivable.

Possibly the best song, the opening guitar riff instantly grabs you and hooks you back into the song whenever it graces the track. It’s emotional, with a darkness that doesn’t overpower the song. Although it continually threatens to sink into shoe-gazing, it never goes there, creating an exceptional track with the perfect balance of bright music, dark lyrics, and dim emotion.

Lipgloss With Strangers
Again the simple intro keys work, harking memories of Ah-a’s largely ignored (but now acclaimed) “Scoundrel Days.” The lyrics have a sense of mystery to them, leaving you piecing them together in an attempt to figure out what the song is about. Corbin as a lyricist is exceptional in this regard, not only on this track, but throughout the CD. Each song leaves you with your own interpretation which ultimately creates a much more personal musical experience. The build-up to the final repeat of the chorus is a great pay-off, trailing into a simple keyboard to reflect where the song began.

With “Sonnet,” you feel as though you’ve been jarringly tossed into a song that started a stanza or two before the track actually begins, which sets you back a bit while you mentally try to catch up. Once that happens, the song is actually quite good. The chorus is memorable and features yet another great build-up about three minutes into the song that could very well be an homage to Queen’s “Flash Gordon” title track. This is one where you definitely take notice of Corbin’s voice -- at once holding back a scream and then belting out a chorus with such clarity that you understand every word that’s sung.

The Haunting and Apathy’s Broken Record
Although I generally avoid using the term “emo,” these are the tracks that it most resembles. Each is a belting lament that again teeters on the brink of shoegazing, but pulls back just far enough to avoid cliche. This is what Philo seems to do to great success -- they wrap themselves in what so closely resembles cliche (or at least something you’ve heard before), then surprises the listener when the wrapping begins to fall away to reveal something far different than what might be expected.

This is a CD that’s definitely worth noting. It has some brilliantly written tracks that only get better with age. Philo is a force to be reckoned with that already has a fan base and the wherewithal to get this release in the hands of a label and ultimately get themselves signed. I have a feeling this disc will go well beyond Columbus.


Anonymous said...

I'm one of the singer's cousin! It's soooooooo cool!!!!!!!!!!!

Asia said...

same person who commented the 1st comment

If im right im corbin's second cousins. Not sure...

I got his album at chrismas when our family got 2gether. Corbin gave mah dad the album and we listened 2 it in the van. It's awsome right!! XD I used aqua morning and sonnet 4 anime videos on youtube. My youtube is blackchiwhite is u or anyone would like 2 contact me.