PHONY, the new project of prolific songwriter Neil Berthier (ex-Donovan Wolfington), is the exact opposite of the moniker’s definition. The genre-bending multi-instrumentalist’s debut LP, Songs You’ll Never Sing, is an amalgamation of emotional pop songs coupled with dark droning trails of the mind, leaving the listener wondering what is coming next.
Inspired by the progressiveness of indie rock staples like Built to Spill and Death Cab For Cutie, PHONY keeps an even keel by combining that with the classic sensibilities of Nirvana and Weezer’s Pinkerton. The subject matter covers everything from love, trust, psychedelics, anxiety, alcoholism and lucid dreams that feel much like the songs themselves.
The album’s opening “claustrophobia” brings the listener into a dreamy swing ballad that turns into an explosive introduction to the album as a whole. The twists and turns throughout are not only intentional, but something that feels refreshing and new to the music landscape at large. The leading single off the album, “dr. ayahuasca” is pretty trippy on it’s own. “The song musically is supposed to emulate if Rivers Cuomo from Weezer took acid and how that would affect their pop-rock formula,” says Berthier. “Lyrically, it’s about a time an ex-lover and I took psychedelics during Mardi Gras a few years ago. It was midnight, and she told me she hadn’t heard a lot of classic rock, specifically The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. We lit 20 candles in the small studio apartment bathroom and sat in a bubble bath for four hours playing with this red ribbon in the water. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience.” Contrasting with the drug-induced single, the album ender “awake” drags you through the swamp of a reoccurring dream where death is imminent and escape is not an option. These opposing ends are oddly comforting, confirming the expansiveness of human emotion, rendering the one dimensional push that we see everyday on all platforms to be obsolete.
The now Boston-based act has been traveling alone for sometime. After originally hailing from New Orleans and building a strong and loyal following in the vast musical ecosystem that the city is known for, he spent a year in Nashville to calm down for a while and get back to loving music again. In the process of doing so, Berthier moved to Chicago, where he started to tour and perfect the direction of where he wanted to go next with the project. Songs You’ll Never Sing was recorded, mixed and engineered by Michael Saladis one blistering hot week in June of 2018 at The Palace in New Orleans, LA. The humidity is felt throughout the record, bringing delirium to the forefront and putting the woes of the mundane on the back burner.
Photo Credit: Vanessa Valadez