Average Bear is a weekly track-by-track album review. This week, I review the 2015 album “The Phosphorescent Blues” by The Punch Brothers.
The Punch Brothers don’t get enough credit for the music they produce. Being a folk band in a land of pop and rock, it’s easy to understand why these guys don’t have a huge following. I implore you, though, give this album a chance and realize why these folky fellas deserve your attention.
The title of this track embodies my love of and my worries for this band. I was afraid while going into this album that the songs would be a bit too familiar, but that isn’t the case. The tracks have that folky element that Punch Brothers are so good at developing, but each song has enough fresh taste to stay clean. As for this monstrous 10-minute opener, it’s brilliant. The blending of modern and old surfaces gives life again and again just when you think you’ll get bored. I could go on about this opener, but let’s just leave it at this: fantastic.
Being one of the two opening singles off the album, “Julep” gives a preview of what’s to come on this album. The mellow atmosphere soaks in a gorgeous flow. The vocals and the instrumentation sync wonderfully and the song as a whole deserves to be the foreground this album presents.
3. “Passepied (Debussy)”
Keeping with the same general feel as “Julep,” this instrumental track adds a bit of flare. Punch Brothers are so good at writing well-paced, well-written instrumental tracks that fit in just as well as anything else. The end of the track does lose some momentum, but ultimately it’s very well written.
4. “I Blew it Off”
Percussion? In a Punch Brothers song?! Blasphemy! Jokes aside, I’m a little mixed on this track. The percussion isn’t a problem at all, but the song seems out of place. The flow is funky and the chorus seems weakly written. If it was a stand alone single, it would serve better. For now, it’s just a little strange in context.
Again, we are given another kinda strange song. I like the instrumentation presented here, but the vocals sound off. I’m not sure if it’s the tone or the lyrical foundation, but it’s just odd. It has potential, but it’s just not all there.
6. “My Oh My”
This track kicks the album back into shape. The funky flow of back-and-forth pacing works beautifully here and never gets drowned out. The midway cut of tempo that builds back to a powerful outro works on all fronts. This is a great track.
7. “Boll Weevil”
Here, the album takes a little old school flare and makes it relevant. The twangy banjo-fronted instrumentation strums along with a nice zest. This is what I would call classic folk. Nothing too fancy, just a good time.
8. “Prelude (Scriabin)”
Due to this being a minute-long track that leads into the next, there isn’t much to say. It leads in nicely and as a prelude, it does its job.
Unfortunately, this is the tipping point. On an album, I believe slow ballads should only take up so much space. When you cram an album with slow moving, intricate pieces, it bogs down the experience as a whole. This song hits its notes well, though a bit boring. I wish instead of another ballad they would have added in something a bit more fast paced, but that can be argued both ways.
10. “Between 1st and A”
I just adore this track. It begins with a certain bit of mystery that keeps you interested and bursts into an upbeat melody that then goes slow instrumental and ends upbeat again. Essentially, it’s a beautiful mess. I love when a track can add in so many flavors and still hit the nail on the head. Kudos, Punch Brothers.
11. “Little Lights”
As mentioned before, the album has a lot of slow motion within. This track again serves up a slow ballad, and works very well. I love how the track closes with a chorus of singers chanting alongside the main vocals. This is the perfect placement for a slow-moving epic. It’s beautiful and leaves you in awe.
“Between 1st and A”
This album hits a lot of high notes, but be prepared to listen to a slow-moving album. I can’t say this is a total negative, because there are so many well-written tracks in the balance. There are more than enough tracks to leave a fan happy, but a bit of faster pacing could have served the band better in the grand scheme.