New band of the week: Phoenix and the Flower Girl (No 145)

The last ever New Band of the Week brings an appropriately phantasmagoric end to the column’s 11-year run

Hometown: Tokyo and London.

The lineup: Phoenix Troy (music), Flower (artistic director).

The background: It’s an age-old question: what if you had only one week left to live? How would you spend it? We’d probably spend it writing about new bands. But what if the New Band of the Week column had only one week left? How would we fill it? Well, if it was this week, it would be really hard, because it’s such a great week for new music. We would really struggle to get it down to just one act. There’s the Aces, the Utah four-piece fronted by sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez whose two tracks – Stuck and Physical – posit them as a cross between Haim and New Order. There’s Young Yizzy, the 17-year-old from south London whose thrilling grime missives make Stormzy sound yawnsy. There’s Dialects, the Glaswegian prog-metallers proclaimed by Kerrang “the fastest rising post-rock band in this part of the world”. Then there’s Crystal Bats, the HypeMachine chart-topping duo from Norwich who appear to have stepped out of 1982 LA. They have already had their music streamed more than a million times on Spotify and used on Durex ads and, with their synthgasmic latest single Anyone, offer an exquisitely sugary blend of Hall & Oates and Scritti Politti.

But if this really was the last week of this column, we’d probably go with Phoenix and the Flower Girl. They describe themselves as an “audio-visual duo” – producer-vocalist Phoenix Troy and “artistic director” Flower – who “shuttle between London and Tokyo”, but that’s not necessarily the reason we’d make them our last-week choices. They’ve had more than 1.5m streams, after being picked up twice by Spotify’s New Music playlist, but that’s not why we’d feature them, either. No, we’d make them our final featured artists because theirs is the sort of phantasmagoric electronic R&B we’ve made a fuss about in this column over the years; a kind of billowy apotheosis – it’s well Pharrell/N*E*R*D – with some of the detailed delicacy of Submerse’s garage-infused J-pop. And we say that even though there are things we might tweak about their music. Their new EP, Greenhouse, is so titled because “greenhouse” represents “the cultivation and exhibition of plants under controlled conditions. Relating to us as a species, humans, we are all under one building: Earth. We are the ones under controlled conditions,” Phoenix Troy explains vaguely. And Troy tends to sing – intone portentously, really – over the music in a way that you might find distracting. Remember how Einar Örn would barge unannounced into the mix just as Björk was reaching a state of ethereal, ecstatic rapture with the Sugarcubes? Or how Dieter Meier frequently barks over Boris Blank’s immaculate canvases in Yello? Jazzie B? Like that. Troy sounds as much like Frank Bruno as he does Frank Ocean. But! He knows how to construct a gorgeous, future-R&B soundscape, so we forgive him. And in the track You, he has devised a sound as divine as anything we’ve heard all year, let alone all week.

Actually, sad to say, this is the last week of New Band of the Week. Yes, the feature that began on 4 December, 2006, initially as a daily column, ends today. It has also enabled me to walk into any room and boast about the musicians I wrote about Before They Were Famous. Ed Sheeran, Adele, Laura Marling, Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga – they were all featured here first. Mumford & Sons? Yup, my fault, soz. I’m prouder of my early pieces on Drake, Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, FKA Twigs, and, especially, Odd Future, for me the greatest and most important “band” (a term used advisedly for such a loose, multiform collective) of the last 10 years.

That list flatters to deceive. I honestly believe that, via this column, I was celebrating a fabulously fertile period for new music. Books have been written eulogising 1966 and 1971, although I’d probably veer more towards Bob Stanley’s contention that 1981 was the one. But the period 2010-11 (the year is harder to fix due to the fluid nature of mixtape release dates) is starting to look more and more like an Indian summer for pop if not actually a golden age. It was an expansive period, when exciting new genres emerged daily – blubstep! chillwave! witch house! cloud rap! indie soul! – and electronica/R&B/rap in particular seemed to merge and recombine at a furiously creative rate. It was a pleasure being there as the requests to be written about came flooding in, even if it meant having to deal with dozens of aspiring, moody Abel Tesfayes.

Which is probably a good point to apologise to all the bands I didn’t manage to include. With 500-600 requests a month, there was no way of pleasing everyone. And of course even the ones who did feature weren’t guaranteed global fame. For every Sheeran, there was a Feathers. It’s a shame I wasn’t able to propel the magnificent Jensen Sportag to megastardom, but they had their moment in the sun. In all, New Band has had the best reaction of anything I’ve ever written.

The buzz: They’re so remote that there is no buzz to report back.

The truth: But there soon will be.

Most likely to: Be proclaimed the future of Brit R&B.

Least likely to: Be proclaimed the future of Britpop.

What to buy: The Greenhouse EP is released on 21 April.

File next to: N*E*R*D, Nao, SZA, Kelela.


Ones to watch: Young Yizzy, Masasolo, The Aces, Dialects, Crystal Bats.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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