On Bandcamp, Icarus Phoenix’s self-titled release self-describes as “indie shoegaze slumber rock”, a mouthful that shows us that, if anything, the project takes itself seriously. The label under which Icarus Phoenix was released, Telos Tapes, only puts out music in the form of cassettes. To prove their point they have made the digital album available for an ironic sum of $666, making certain we’re aware of their wit and intelligence. They admit what this means for the album’s accessibility (apart from for those who take pride in cassettes, an as good a hill as any to die on), and I admit that it would be an interesting gimmick if they didn’t qualify their decision with the following: “But this is art. This is special”. It’s a hell of a pitch for those of us who listen primarily to music released online, music which the label would humbly deem not art.
Despite the context of Icarus Phoenix’s release, the album proves to be not bad at all. It’s a sequence of twelve songs that each sound relatively similar to the last, from which both good and bad impressions can be made. The good is that Icarus Phoenix commits to an aesthetic and that, as a result, their sound distinguishes itself amidst the muck of singer-songwriter projects while creating a consistent narrative from one song to the next. The record feels whole in this way. The bad is that it might become a chore for some listeners, who will put on Icarus Phoenix in the background and an hour later have a difficult time determining whether they’re still listening to the first track or not.
Speaking of the first track, “Zero One, for Will Sartain” is a sure highlight. Sleepy, airy, almost ambient, “Zero One” saunters along at a languid pace with wide, reverbed guitars and a steady backbeat holding everything together. The layers of effects and instrumentation here contribute to the “shoegaze” aspect of Icarus Phoenix’s self-determined genre. Like the songs that follow, this opening track warms the listener with its softness, like waking up to an old friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Thematically, the record doesn’t stray far from that comparison. It’s largely a meditation on friendship and caring for relationships, driven home by the fact that each song has a dedicatee as part of their titles.
However presumptuous the whole situation with Icarus Phoenix might seem, they deliver a quality and wholesome listening experience. Some listeners will find their lyrical and melodic tendencies overly sentimental. Others will find it just right. For the latter, it’s time to dust off your cassette player and pray for that small, boxy production you’ve been craving, or call Telos Tapes’ bluff and donate $666 to the cause. Or, better yet, you can listen to the album for free on Bandcamp until you’re told you can’t anymore.