Over the last few years, Bristolian oddballs Phoxjaw have mystified as much as they’ve cultivated an ever-growing fanbase. They’ve had every rock sub-genre and band comparison thrown at them, and their eagerly-anticipated debut full-length, ‘Royal Swan’, is finally here to rack the brains of anyone who’ll listen.
After the chiming post-rock interlude of ‘Charging Pale Horses’, ‘Trophies In The Attic’ kicks things off for real. Their lumbering desert-rock swagger is apparent in the chorus after an indie-rock verse, but not without the discordance they specialise in.
Then, out of nowhere, the aforementioned song is done with and we segue into ‘Triple AAA’, which invokes some vintage Brit-rock acts such as Idlewild, Reuben, and early era Biffy Clyro. But, it very much feels new and fresh at the same time, in some part thanks to the cauldron-of-reverb production. The band’s ear for melody is at the forefront, and the slightly off-kilter backing vocals act as part of their charm.
‘You Don’t Drink A Unicorn’s Blood’ brings forward more of their lumbering, ominous Queens Of The Stone Age and Soundgarden influence. It not only offers an infectious hook, but feels genuinely unhinged and fraught, especially in the song’s ending which borders on doom metal. But, the best song on the album has to be ‘Half House’, which is urgent and frantic from the start, and is probably the catchiest song on here.
‘Infinite Badness’ is a slower offering, but its melodic richness is what makes this another highlight, with some distinctive, tense guitar lines also a defining feature.
‘Teething’ has an underlying sombreness to it in places, and some further enveloping qualities, such as the soaring chorus. Whilst there’s loads to unpack, the first half of the album still flows by mightily quickly.
‘Bats For Bleeding’ is a surprise-springing highlight, with their idiosyncratic side out in full force; organs, demented croons, and absurd lyrical one-liners are all here. Whatever you think of this track in particular, it’s still one of many talking points.
Even with everything going on, there’s still lots of room to grow and expand upon the flat-out weirdness of ‘Bats For Bleeding’, or their furious alternative metal leanings.
The album’s titular track is a grand closer to end proceedings on, and the band greatly utilise their multi-faceted vocal attack. On this song alone, they switch things up adeptly without you noticing, and you more-or-less get multiple different songs in one.
It’s a nightmare to even begin to describe what Phoxjaw sound like, but the best music undoubtedly conjures up many questions and layers, shatters long-standing conventions, and leaves you wanting more every time. Embracing twisted madness as a means of navigating this wretched world, ‘Royal Swan’ should solidify Phoxjaw as one of the most exciting bands on these shores, and they’re more than capable of stretching the envelope even further for album two.