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Phil France – Circle Review

Space Synth Jazz is the genre I never knew I needed

Phil France has captured my mind with his second album ‘Circle’ which released earlier this year but I’ve only just picked it up. It’s a hazy mixture of synths, keyboards, jazzy elements and cinematic soundscapes that take you away into another world.

‘Circle’ immediately preps you for what you’ll be enjoying throughout the album. It’s electric piano riffs and modular synth bleeps create a warm mesh of sound that wraps itself around you. By the time other synth pads wade in, you feel like your on a journey through space and time. France evokes those kinds of feelings you get from sci-fi films where the music is both futuristic but with organic roots. He chooses his instrumentation to keep that balance in mind and as you start to swim through track after track, you feel more like your travelling down the rabbit hole of Phil France’s world.

Phil France picture
Phil France

‘Bells’ feels euphoric on one hand with modular synth arpeggios calling to the past alongside really cheesy electric piano pangs – it nears vaporwave heights but steers clear of getting there. ‘River’ meanwhile is five minutes of gorgeous flowing percussive loops, droplet synths and airy harp-like buzzes. ‘Prophet’ and ‘Mr Jackal’ take on the piano and a rhodes like keyboard respectively – the latter having such a melancholy swell around it. Borrowing from sci-fi cinematography, game music menu themes, jazz ensembles and alt-pop tracks – it’s such a fantastic piece that I had it on repeat several times on my first listen through so I could just enjoy how it all comes together.

Taking this space jazz approach allows Phil France to try out different types of moods. ‘The First Thing You Say’ is a moody bass heavy piece that threatens to break out into a seriously stomping dance track. Instead, it just broods away and although I really wanted it to kick ass in a more overt way (bring in some massive snare drums) it’s not really in keeping with the albums mentality of poised ethereal spaced out journeys. In a similar fashion ‘Cathedrals’ pulls more from Philip Glass and his organ usage which gives a really powerful undertow to the track but that’s the big push and the other instruments circle around the organs. It’s a different way to think about things and it took me a few listens to appreciate where the power comes from and why. ‘The Breaks’ then begins a wonderfully evocative switch from the futuristic and space-age synths across to the organic piano, which we have barely heard of throughout the album – until just piano cuts of riffs remain. It’s really cleverly done and then the album concludes with ‘Circle Reprise’ which replays the opening track as a piano solo piece. It’s effortless class and melodic beauty is clear for everyone to see and it left me feeling strangely moved by having this audio journey feel like it had delivered me to the warmth of my home.

Phil France has created an astounding album with ‘Circle’ that sits between genres. Fans of synth based electronica music, cinematic scores, jazz fusion and Space Odyssey 2001 – take a seat – you are very welcome to come along for the ride.

Recommended track: Mr Jackal

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Phil France - Circle


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