Short Takes on 2 Albums and 1 EP

The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo

The Phoenix FoundationBuffalo

Memphis Industries Records

The Phoenix Foundation (not to be confused with French band Phoenix) has released Buffalo (album cover-wise not to be confused with the Heartless Bastards’ recent artwork), a breezy, but hit-or-miss potluck of retro, refined, guitar-based psych-pop that wouldn’t be out of place in the 60s or 70s British psychedelic panorama, except, well, that the band members hail from New Zealand – and it’s 2012.  Still, the “coffee and scones” reference on “Eventually” is always welcome.  Less so the lyrics “…takes two to tango / like an orange and a mango.” from “Orange & Mango”, which comes off as too silly.

Songs noticeably alternate between lyrically whimsical (see above) nostalgic numbers and more simple, but serious tunes that have a lasting impact.  The variable song quality could be attributed to the fact that there were too many cooks in the kitchen during the creation of this album: all 6 members contributed to the songwriting.  Two members also trade off main vocal duties, depending on the track, adding to the aural inconsistency.  The vocal harmonizing, however, is a strong point for the band, with one vocalist singing in a plainer tone, and the other in a richer tone.

The band leans towards a dreamy, trippy sound on several songs, but somehow it never manages to take flight.  Either the lyrics or the song structures are too earth-bound, like the proverbial buffalo, instead of rising to the sky like Pegasus (oddly enough, the band’s second album was titled Pegasus).  Instead the songs that shine are the more subdued numbers, like “Bailey’s Beach”, that rely only on vocals, acoustic guitar, and bleaker lyrics.

Longer guitar lines and contemplative vocals glide and rise on the captivating “Skeleton” as the vocalist sighs “Your body is still yearning for yesteryear.”  The hazy edge of the vocals on the sweeping “Flock of Hearts” and appealing harmonies on “Pot” make those songs memorable.  “Golden Ship” is a keeper with its low-key, longing, but expressive vocals as the vocalist sings melancholically “Look at all the happy people / crowded on a city train… / shufflin’ in our cage.”


Mia Doi Todd - Comic Ocean Ship

Mia Doi ToddCosmic Ocean Ship

City Zen Records

Mia Doi Todd is a long-standing singer-songwriter with 9 albums to her name (and 2 EPs), the latest being Cosmic Ocean Ship out on City Zen Records.  The subtle, lyrics-centric songs on this album waft by, brightened by Mia’s soothing, welcoming vocals.  She comes across as a warm friend, one who is good-natured and easy-going, and as familiar as a comfortable blanket in winter.

Mia sings in a serene, limpid tone in a medium to higher range, with her voice at the forefront of each song.  Her sometimes bittersweet to melancholic lyrics lift up when she raises her voice to a higher register.  She is unobtrusively supported by spare arrangements of lucent, picked guitar, mild percussion, and occasional piano notes.

The visual trajectory of the album, via Mia’s lyrics, moves from imagery of a naturalistic setting of islands, ocean, and sun to that of a human-made cityscape, while thematically Mia touches upon the simple and universal joys (Mia luxuriates in the vocal line “Summer… / you do me good.” on “Summer Lover”), fears, and hopes in life.

There is a mellow ebb and flow to tunes like tropical opener “Paraty”, with its laid-back hand drums, silken guitar lines, and shaken sand rhythm.  Mia sings about the beach and ocean environment, and about coconuts and mangos (Hmm, is there a running theme to this Short Takes?).

Mia surrounds herself with subdued instruments on the lyrically perceptive “The Rising Tide”, as she opines “Gotta face our changing planet… / population out of balance…”  Not one to give up hope, and always searching for an answer, she asks “Can we fix it with our love? / Can we rise above?”  While this might be too message-oriented for some, Mia then makes it personal, drawing from her own experience and asking if she can face herself in these uncertain times.

As the album continues, Mia’s lyrics and vocal delivery become more complex and contemplative, as is epitomized by “All My City”, where she find beauty underneath the “concrete disguise” and that, since her friends and family are part of the city, so too is the city part of her.  Mia calls to nature to take her “…in your heart / in your arms.”, but she realizes that the city (i.e., humans) mean no harm to nature, and that maybe they can co-exist as long as a balance is maintained.


DanseWolf - Smoke N Mirrors EP

DanseWolfSmoke N Mirrors EP


Okay, no mango references here… although the mention of oranges wouldn’t be out of place, since DanseWolf is based in Los Angeles… The 6 songs on this EP all exude a lively dance-rock energy and lead singer Juls D lets loose with robust wails and a defiantly engaging attitude.  Think Gwen Stefani if she rocked instead of popped, with an overlay of Patricia Day of HorrorPops and Siouxsie Sioux.  The hyped-up energy and expressive vocalization wear thin though, because of the unchanging, aggressively up-tempo nature of all 6 songs.  Loud and pushy can be exhilarating, but by track 6 (or before then), it just becomes exhausting.

The EP has a clean, crisp, well-produced sound and Juls D pushes her words out clearly, exclaiming and a bit on edge, but always in control vocally, even as she maneuvers through some flat-out rollercoaster ride articulation.  Opener “In L.A.” is a zippy anthem to the city with the tried ‘n’ true, spiritedly-sung lyrics “Gonna give it all you can give / to make it in Los Angeles.”  Next number “Smoke N Mirrors” moves with a curvy slam of drums and guitar as Juls D exclaims in a sultry tone “Don’t even think you know – / The smoke ‘n’ mirrors… / I see right through.”

By the third track, “I Think Maybe”, the rich whine of Juls D’s vocals will either energize or enervate.  Last track “Like A Ghost” is interesting for its 50s-style pace and delicate, trippingly-fingered piano notes, but that’s trampled by overzealous hard guitar lines and Juls D staying in the same sharp, exclaiming vocal range as she agonizes “I’ll take it day by day / find a way to get you off my mind.”  On a side note, the CD packaging is pretty cool, with a fold-out poster insert of the band within and hand-printed lyrics on the back of said poster.