An album of ambition that sets the bar high but meets it.
The lofty title alone (‘No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell’) of the second release by the band Icarus Phoenix is enough to pique one’s interest, but add to that the way frontman and veteran indie artist Drew Danburry describes the project and the bar is set even higher: “The last album changed my life,” says Danburry. “This one might change yours.”
‘Madam Seawright’ gets us off to an auspicious start: “I found an anchor in the arms of an ox / An owl alighted gently onto me,” Danburry opens softly, his vocals in the genesis of Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett. While short, the opening track is still multilayered and manages to take us through some pretty indie peaks and troughs. ‘Jan Sessions’ is bouncier and more upbeat – its lyrics expressing love for an artist, and – true enough to its name – the next track ‘Rivers’ flows in seamlessly; its talk of expressing yourself as an artist making it feel very much like a natural extension of ‘Jan Sessions’.
The intro to ‘Anthem’ is just that: anthemic, before it mellows out somewhat. “Self-involved black hole, can you fix me? No,” cries Danburry, evidently at rock bottom. ‘Sleep’ is a short indie rock stutterer that questions the age of social media we live in (“Our worldview, catered to, one click and we’re satisfied. The result, we’re selfish and insecure”), although Danburry still finds some wonder in life (“But to sing songs that I make up when I am asleep / Is a dream, and that I get to even sing, well what a strange life we live”). Like ‘Rivers’ before it, the similarly water-themed ‘Swim’ flows straight in from the previous track. “Well it may be small but what you do at least for you makes a difference,” he assures the two subjects (Jake and Morgan) that the song is dedicated to.
‘Eddie King’ is a happy tribute to someone who lives each day by the carpe diem motto, while ‘Kill Holiday’ – a dreamy, shoegazing affair – takes aim at someone with a frosty attitude: “Chipping at ice from off of your shoulder I never knew that you could / Treat me this way overnight change and now it feels all over”. ‘80’s Night Dance Party Singing “Send Me an Angel”’ is a standout and feels cinematic in its scope as Danburry talks of, “Writing stupid songs to help recover from the pain or being alive or trying to rewind” while adding: “Adjusting to now wouldn’t be painful if accepting yourself was an easier task”. ‘All the Same’ is a rumination on life (“When I’m guilty of dishonor, I can find another way / I can stay right here beside you, we can laugh and find our joy / We can draw and be creative, we won’t always be this young”), while ‘Sea Legs’ too asks some similarly difficult questions (“Where is the line placed between love and hate? What is aggressive or passively so? / Do your beliefs need forced validation? Must others conform to your point of view? / Can we agree it’s damaging for us to think we should agree? / I don’t think it’s weird if you’re scared of dogma but we don’t need to be the same”). The final track ‘Dogma of No Dogma’ continues to look at some of the most challenging aspects of being human, finally concluding: “And what if we listened? Rather than shout?”.
Danbury definitely set expectations high, but he has managed to meet them. While perhaps life changing is a bit of a stretch, the album is affecting what it does, even more so when you consider the brevity of the work. While each song is short – the longest comes in at four minutes thirty-four seconds, and most tracks average just over two minutes – they’re still extremely impactful; proof that there is great merit in saying what you need to say but still leaving the audience asking for more, and with Danburry’s prolific output (the first Icarus Phoenix album was released just last September), hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for that.