“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is an artist in the proper sense of the word. Phew originally rose to notoriety with art-punk combo Aunt Sally (1978-80), before a premiere solo release in 1981, recorded at Conny Plank’s Cologne studio with Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. In an artfully restless career of sonic adventure and improvisation, Phew has recorded with avant luminaries such as Ryuichi Sakamto, the excellent Oto Yoshihide (in the group Novo Tono), Chrislo Haas, Alexander Hacke, Yuji Takahashi, Dieter Mobius, Jim O’Rourke and Ana Da Silva of The Raincoats. A critical favourite, Phew’s 21st century records “Five Finger Discount” and “Voice Hardcore” have featured highly in The Wire’s top 50 records of the year.
“New Decades” is her first new release on Mute Records in nearly 30 years (“Our Likeness” came out in 1992) and it’s a masterfully sparse yet vital chime in a new era for Phew which began with the Japanese only release “New World” (2015).
Phew was used to working in isolation at home, keeping her voice at low volume so as not to disturb the neighbours, so our stark times of lockdown were not alien, but have thrown Phew’s work into vivid relief and have cranked the intensity to hitherto unassailed summits. Empty Japanese and British platitudes and paeans to banality combine with metal machine shrieks, analogue sine waves and splintering electronics to make a work that’s on one level emotionally unavailable yet at once accessibly warm, and right in the moment since as Phew’s recent quotes attest “Personally speaking, I’ve stopped being able to see a future that extends from the present.”
It’s a thousand yard stare born from the unpredictability of our current unexpectedly dark days, but with an undeniably progressive musical urgency. It’s a great pleasure to capture a little personal insight here on these pages of music that has caught her recent discernment, so we bid a glowing welcome to Phew!
Here’s a taster of “New Decades” called “Days Nights”…
“New Decade” is not supposed to capture life during pandemic, although inadvertently it does – at least in terms of the claustrophobia and snippets of ultimately ephemeral chat – most notably about the weather of course on album opener “Snow and Pullen” – the ultimate fallback when people don’t know what to converse about any more. The only other people on the album are regular counterpoints Hiroyuki Nagashimi of Dowser and the klanging guitar texturing of Seiichi Yamamoto of the peerless Boredoms, on this album of icy but literate solitude and sometimes foreboding mood.
One of my favs is “Feedback Tuning” named after the wringing utilisation of an old electric guitar with rusted strings Phew had chanced on at home, making it the first time she’s ever played the instrument on one of her solo records. Not so much esoteric as stratospheric. Mostly though of course it’s electronic music. Electronic yet never robotic. Although the human voices on the album have been made distant, monotonous or meaningless, it’s the machine music which strangely contains the most life, the arrhythmic beating heart of “New Decades” – new decades about which this current crisis dictates we can’t even begin to predict with any of the seeming certainty we had in the 80s/90s.
(here’s the album artwork btw)
Anyway enough of my pseudo intellectual pontification, without further ado, this is Phew’s “song for ewe” (how pleasingly poetic)…
Virus X – Schwarz Rot
“I don’t know anything about the band, nor the lyrics, but I was fascinated by their primitive and essential music.
I thought that their performance had everything that rock music has to offer. Energy, impulse, necessity, innocence, body and freedom.”
Thanks so much to Phew and to Zoë Miller at ZOPF PR
Phew photo by Masayuki Shioda
You can buy / listen to the Phew album “New Decades” here: https://mute.ffm.to/phew
and here’s another track from it: “Into The Stream”