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Phideaux: Snowtorch

Snowtorch, the newest record by Phideaux, is an utter masterpiece. Full of some of the best music and melodies the genre has yet produced, as well as a brilliant sense of cohesion and conceptual continuity, it's more than just Phideaux's magnum opus; it is one of the best progressive rock albums ever made.

Phideaux is the brainchild of American multi-instrumentalist and singer, Phideaux Xavier. Directing his band of wonderful musicians and female vocalists, his first few efforts leaned more towards psychedelic hard rock; however, with Doomsday Afternoon and the amazing Number 7, Phideaux has crafted some incredibly complex and catchy progressive rock. Snowtorch, which splits its title track into two parts while also existing as a singular piece, is the culmination of everything Phideaux has done. It is astonishing.

"Snowtorch (Part One)" is likely the greatest progressive rock piece since the mid 1970s. Its melodies are addicting, its music is at once subtly beautiful and hypnotically complex, and the transitions and reprises between segments are superb. In essence, this track is the culmination of everything that is great about the genre, and it's damn near impossible to not be blown away by it. It's easily some of the best music I've ever heard.

Serving as a sort of intermission between the two main parts, "Helix" is a wonderfully arranged, classically influenced ballad lead by a warm female voice. It exquisitely mixes its own melodies and music with alternately arranged reprisals of "Snowtorch (Part One)." It also segues into the next track, which is always a nice touch.

"Snowtorch (Part Two)" opens with dense acoustic guitar chords and then glides into intricate, ominous madness. Halfway through, piano chords lead into a female sung variation of a section from the first part. The remainder of the track continues to reference what came before it while adding plenty of new sounds and ideas. It's magnificent.

Finally, "..." acts as a brief epilogue. Filled with spacey sounds, acoustic guitars, piano, and strings, it briefly and effectively brings the piece full circle while also creating the desire for more. It's a superb closer.

Snowtorch is an album to be celebrated, cherished, and continually listened to. While the influence of the 70s originals is apparent, Phideaux masterfully combines them into a unique and exceptional piece. I've heard a lot of progressive rock over the years, but I can only recall a few times where I've been immediately and overwhelmingly delighted by a record. Phideaux is an important and original visionary in a genre that needs some revitalization, and Snowtorch is just about as great as an album can be.

Track Listing
1. Snowtorch - Part One (19:39)
a) Star Of Light
b) Retrograde
c) Fox On The Rocks
d) Celestine
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch - Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. '' ... ''' (2:34)

Added: May 31st 2011
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Bloodfish Media
Hits: 5178
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Phideaux: Snowtorch
Posted by Mark Johnson, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-05-31 17:45:05
My Score:

Phideaux Xavier is a Los Angeles, California TV director, musical composer and the namesake for the band Phideaux. As leader, Xavier plays acoustic guitar, piano, and handles lead vocals for the band. 'Snowtorch' is Phideaux's eighth album. They are a band which has achieved much critical acclaim lately, as well as a live performance of this album at this year's Rights of Spring Festival 2011 in Philadelphia. Many fans and music writers would rank Phideaux up with the best prog bands in the USA and the world for that matter. Xavier describes his band's music as "psychedelic progressive gothic rock". Snowtorch was released on March 21, 2011, and has been ranked the best album of 2011 already on many prog music writers 'best of' lists.

The band and this album also includes the talents of the following members: Valerie Gracious on lead female vocals; Ariel Farber on vocals and violin; Rich Hutchins on drums; Mathew Kennedy on bass guitar; Gabriel Moffat on electric guitar; Molly Ruttan on vocals and metal percussion; Linda Ruttan on Moldawsky and vocals; Mark Sherkus on keyboards and piano; Jonny Unicorn on keyboards, saxophone, and vocals; Stefanie Fife on cello; and Chris Bleth on flute and soprano saxophone.

'Snowtorch' is one of the best albums of 2011. It is full of original sounding keyboards, excellent guitars and an interesting story, something that is getting harder and harder to find in rock any more. The keyboard work is some of the best I have heard this year. Excellent album, highly recommended.

The first epic of the two part series, 'Snowtorch – Part One', opens with great piano and bass, with Xavier's vocals, taking us into 'Star of Light'. Xavier sings, "Star of light see what you gave, you cheated away the cold", set to some brooding keys, soft sticks, and bass. These are some of Xavier's best vocals. "I've come alive. Finally I cry…and it's me I have arrived". Great emotion and power, before we move into 'Retrograde', which is full of wonderful classic piano and great keyboard instrumentation. Xavier's vocals are back, "Tell me how the planet was formed. Out of dust we were born. What does it feel like to come to the end". Valerie Gracious joins Xavier on vocals to produce some early vocal highlights on "So tell me have you any regrets? From your glass house can you see what you said. Are you listening to the things that they said in your diary…the book of the dead?" Yeah, not pretty, but the Canterbury – like sounds and music that follows sets the stage for some wonderful keyboards that will take this song over the top. Xavier and Gracious do a fantastic job singing in harmony throughout this album and we get our introduction to the sound early. The piano and keys throughout this magical mystery tour are wonderful. The mellotron – like themes mix perfectly with good guitar that weaves in and out of the soundscape. The piano serves as a great central beacon. The flute links this right back to the many classic epics of the 70s, giving the song power and presence. The drums are placed perfectly. All new and original themes with hints to the past. Gracious, takes over lead vocals with, "I bring to you the words you threw into my face once before". Xavier responds in kind, "I know what you need", and a nice dueling duet ensues, set to beautiful keys and guitar, with birds chirping to add flavor. You just want to ask, where does he come up with this stuff?

A beautiful piano and keyboard introduction signals the beginning of the 'Fox on the Rocks'. Ah, the fox on the rocks, bringing back the glory of Supper's Ready! You know, I and a bunch of fans were happy to hear that again. "When is a fox not a fox, when it hides in the rocks and prepares to reveal itself. Dropping the guise that it knows what you don't want to show". The whole vocal section just takes you right back, without the nursery rhymes this time. Then more beautiful piano as we move to the closing section of this epic, 'Celestine'. The cello work is wonderful and adds the perfect amount of drama before more beautiful piano and keys. There is another piano section that shines perfectly before more cello, bass, mellotron keys and then a spectacular keyboard extravaganza; featuring one of my favorite synthesizer moments of the year so far. It's a globing keyboard effect which is just amazing. Then more cool guitar, bass, and keys to close out the track and move us on to…

'Helix', which opens with keys and Gracious' vocals, "Tell me when the planet was formed was it easy to believe there was more? Were we learning to expand and explore? Did we weather the storm? Or get lost in the dust of disturbance and cloud?", with a very Kate Bush presence. Then her vocal refrain, "Feel the Helix of light. Feel it inside". Some more incredible lyrics follow, delivered with beautiful vocals. "Take one little step to the end where you must. Everything depends on a moment of trust". Brilliant vocals set to guitar, cellos, bass and solid drums. The keyboards are also excellent.

'Snowtorch – Part Two' opens with acoustic guitar before the drums enter with some Pink Floyd keyboard echo effects, before more excellent keyboard solos. It can't be said enough that this album uses keyboards so effectively to create atmospheres which truly stand on their own. They're original and full of emotion and power. 'Blowtorch' opens slowly with keys, drums, and bass before the rocketing keys and guitars blast forward. More cool mellotron effects make this section special. Then some classic Genesis inspired mellotron like keys take it over the top. The 'Fox Rock 2' brings back that wonderful melody again, this time with Gracious' beautiful cascading "ah, ah, ahs". Xavier returns to bring on the final section, 'Coronal Mass Ejection'. The story is nearing its end, but the wonderful melodies and great lyrics are still to be found a plenty. More great keyboard effects as well.

There is an untitled closing theme track at the end of the album. It's only a 2:34 minute piece, but worth every minute. The melody is repeated complete with strings, keys, piano and what sounds like a Renaissance faire or party full of joyous laughter and people celebrating to flute and Canterbury like sounds.

Rating: 5/5 – One of the best albums of 2011.

» Reader Comments:

Phideaux: Snowtorch
Posted by Shannon Wilcox on 2011-06-29 21:07:25
My Score:

Excellent job on this review. I felt compelled to listen to numerous songs just because of Jordan's enthusiasm. I have to say that I most definitely agree and am glad I listened because I was also blown away by the phenomenal sound =)

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