Review: Phrixus – Doubt (Merci Jitter)

Returning from a two-year hiatus with a five-track EP that reportedly takes influence from corners of the musical map as diverse as southern rap and UK funky, London-based DJ and producer Phrixus has produced a bold and innovative musical statement that recalls the mutant sound design of Arca and Lanark Artefax while venturing into a diverse range of alternate sonic territories.

In a vivid description that captures the textural variety of the five cuts that make up “Doubt”, Phrixus invites listeners to “imagine a big machine made of shards of light fighting a sludge golem, and you have the EP”. This gloriously fantastical mental image neatly captures the wildly imaginative scope of the record, which contrasts laser-bright synthesizers with destructively industrial percussion, shimmering clouds of ambience with futurist vocal processing.

Opening the EP with the aptly-titled “Eerie”, Phrixus puts his pop sensibilities on display, foregrounding a pitched vocal line over a dramatic backdrop that pits glitchy percussion against maximalist synths, resulting in something delightfully uncategorisable. Drawing equally from the melodic structures of R&B and the production values of experimental electronica, he sets the tone for an EP that veers confidently between influences without once falling into incoherence or imitation.

“Shattered Clutch” is a fork in the road that journeys away from the mainstream into a hallucinogenic netherworld of stunningly detailed sound design: opening with a shuddering percussive motif that rises in both pitch and tension, Phrixus ratchets up the suspense before a devastating beat emerges halfway through, landing somewhere between the growling bass music of Swamp81 and the deviant mutations of Arca and SOPHIE: weighty, destructive and gloriously unhinged, the tune practically begs to be heard on a pair of Funktion-Ones in a fogged-out basement rave.

“Bending” mines similar influences, ramping up the tempo and introducing melodic elements that recall classic grime instrumentals. Chaos is reached at the midpoint, before Phrixus leads us into another unexpected minimal breakdown, a structural device that’s clearly both a staple of his arrangements and a useful tool that helps to balance the frenetic energy of his rhythmic ideas with the empty space necessary to appreciate the detail of his soundworld.

In yet another unexpected move, Burialesque atmosphere and crackle sweeps the stereo field before a solitary guitar line ends the track on a contemplative note. “Over” opens with a similar mood, as glossy synths cascade over tenebrous textures, giving the listener a chance to bask in moonlit ambience for a revelatory two minutes before a towering, manipulated voice, reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent detour into vocal work, takes centre stage.

Closing cut and highlight “Here B Ghosts” acts as a perfect summary of Phrixus’ varied and abundant talents: alternating between glitched-out, warp-speed IDM delirium and soaring, ecstatic pads worthy of a 6AM dancefloor epiphany, the track is bookended with heavily processed but oddly emotive vocal takes that remind us of the scope of Phrixus’ musical ambition.

Coherently piecing together aberrant club constructions of the highest order with beatific atmospheres and vocal performances that point towards abilities stretching far beyond the sphere of electronica, he proves himself as an adventurous and protean artist whose talent and vision breaks through the boundaries of convention and into the domain of truly personal expression.

Doubt is out now. Buy it here.

Words: Matt Mullen

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