The Greatest Endangered Thing “Phosphenes: Volume 1”

Sweet Irene Records, 2024

A promising part one that indicates sometimes starting again is worth the risk.

You may think that The Greatest Endangered Thing’s ‘Phosphenes: Volume 1’ is only the band’s second release, but there’s actually a pretty good chance you heard the British-American indie folk duo, made up of Samuel James Taylor and Rebecca Van Cleave, in the late 2010s. You see, before becoming The Greatest Endangered Thing, they first went by Ophelia, a moniker under which they had some success that included support from BBC Radio 2 and a critically acclaimed EP, only for the duo to fall off the map in 2018. Burned out from the exhaustion of the music industry, they took a hiatus that involved retreating into the calm of the English countryside, and from that, The Greatest Endangered Thing was born.

‘Faith in the Bird’ is this mini-album’s opening track and it’s clear immediately just how deeply the time they spent in nature inspired the band. “I’ve seen the writing written on the wall / I’ve heard the magpie and her lonely winter’s call / Now the olive branch is twisted in the tree / And the white dove’s flown, she’s nowhere to be seen,” comes Taylor’s voice with Van Cleave backing him, a beautiful harmony against lilting acoustic guitar. As much as he seems to love the country, the sweet ‘One Day’ sees Taylor share his desire to go absolutely everywhere with the one he loves (“One day / I want to take you everywhere / If it’s today / It’s not too soon for me / We’re kids on the highway”).

On both ‘Delilah’ and ‘Sweet Amarillo’, Van Cleave takes lead vocal duties with lovely results. Her vocals feel shaky and uncertain on the former as the song opens, a perfect match for the disillusionment hinted at in the lyrics: “These old streets, my yellow rose / And your head’s in the sky, city lights all shining gold / And the stars in our eyes led us down a rabbit hole / Was it all pretend?” But as the music swells and Taylor joins her for harmonies, you get the feeling of a couple fighting through their issues, unable to let each other go. “For all your faults and all it cost us / I could never let you go,” they confess before concluding, “Carry me home.” ‘Delilah’ strikes a far more carefree and joyous tone, a celebration of reckless love that’s carried along with a hopeful beat.

“We’re far too young to fade / Let’s light these fires again, we’re burning,” Taylor and Van Cleave assert on ‘Balancing on the Horizon Line’, and that burning analogy works perfectly when you think of how they burnt down all they had built as Ophelia to arise anew as The Greatest Endangered Thing; as risky a strategy that may have been, but the band have re-emerged with a fresh vibrancy that indicates that the best might just be yet to come.


About Helen Jones 135 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.
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