CD, Malignant Records, 2010
“His Master’s Voice” – an immediate image springs to mind of gramophones and puppies. Phaenon, however, challenge this norm in every way imaginable with their newest album, which shares the same name. Traditionally, this label conjures thoughts of classical recordings, big band and stirring vocal performances; Phaenon delivers deep, droniong ambience as far removed from this conventional opinion as is possible.
The four movements (the term ‘track’ seems vastly deficient when faced with the monumental nature of these recordings) that make up the album – replete with sufficiently cyber/surreal nomenclature like “Interstellar Semantics” or “Silentium Universi” – tell a story in the dark, slowly building atmospheres that echo the vast emptiness you’d expect in situations like space flight cryogenic hibernation. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, and especially not for the ritalin-sated ADD generation, ambient music is not something to be approached lightly, and Phaenon is no exception. The uninitiated will complain bitterly about their boredom and the lack of any kind of recognisable musical event to excite their already over-stimulated brains. They will fail entirely to appreciate its subtleties, or to recognise the resonance it evokes deep inside the subconscious. They will deplore the fact that the music is thought-provoking, rather than the MTV fare that contrarily tells them what they should think, how they should dress and who they should associate with. This is not a genre associated with popularity – yet, paradoxically, if a throbbing bassline and 140+ BPM drums are thrown into the mix, it closely resembles psytrance, which thrives on crowds of dreadlocked, drug-addled fans…
So, yes, not much happens in between the obsessive/compulsive attention to detail in the meticulous structuring and sequencing, and it is a given that the majority of listeners will fast-forward through the album looking for interesting parts. This is their loss and indeed, a gain for the few that brave the personal confrontation with one’s self that ambient music of this calibre inspires.
But to return to reality: despite these lofty pretensions, when you get right down to it, Phaenon fails to deliver in one regard – originality. Sadly, “His Master’s Voice” doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table in terms of genre advancement. It’s just more of the same ambient that 50 other producers are generating. So there’s no denying that it’s clever stuff, but that’s about its greatest drawcard.
— David van der Merwe