The Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (EMI)

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The Phoenix Foundation: Bailey's Beach
The Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (EMI)

After their excellent, Best of Elsewhere 2007 album Happy Ending -- and in the interim solo projects and the amusing, enticing and experimental pre-Christmas EP Merry Kriskmass -- expectation is high for this album by one of New Zealand's most interesting and enjoyable acts.

More so even than the mostly laidback, slightly-delic Happy Ending, there is a dreamy languor here and although a number of the 10 songs are effectively poppy (in that they have memorable melody lines and hooks), much here doesn't quite stick as before -- although you never stop admiring the musicianship, arrangements, ambition and lightness of touch which is on display.

The pop songs -- among them the pulsing title track and the delightful Flying Nun/folk-Velvets throb of Bitte Bitte  -- sound restrained and rather too encased in their own soft envelope of sonics. And the whimsical then swirling Orange and Mango become pure sonic artistry which starts chipper like upbeat Bread or Paul Simon's lightweight 59th Street Bridge Song and becomes a whole other thing.

Yes, there is a lot of artistry here too: the opener Eventually is a scene setter (sort of Endless Summer about winter in Wellington), the closer Golden Ship a ghostly Brian Wilson-like piece which progressively steps up and up in sonic breath, and between them are songs which, when listened to individually, are mighty impressive. 

Freed of the overall mood of relaxed psychedelic pop material, like the delightful Bailey's Beach and Wonton towards the end might have had more impact (the former a gorgeously ambient song, the latter subdued folk-rock of the finest kind wrapped in clouds of 10CC vocals) but here too many are lost to the over-arching tone, or their effect is reduced.

So Buffalo is a colourful, often beguiling and certainly impressive outing. But over the full sweep -- and it really is a sweep of sound -- it is unfortunately less than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts. 

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