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November 23, 2017


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Phoenix Thunderstone
Picnic With The Dead (Heyday Records)

By: Alex Steininger

Imagine a pop-rock band with a dark secret lurking beneath their music. That's what Phoenix Thunderstone's music brings to mind. With Sean Heskett on vocals, the darkness is revealed, while Wendy Van Dusen's vocals add a softer touch to the music. On their third full-length, and first for Heyday Records, they provide nine tracks for the listener to hear, and experience.

Ever heard a song on the radio and instantly turn it off for the simple fact it annoys you? And as you hear that song more and more, even though it still annoys you, you are sort of drawn to the song. As you hear it more and more, you soon become very familiar with it, when suddenly you find yourself singing along with it, because you know all the lyrics down to the last exclamation point on the final word. Don't lie, we've all had this happen to us. Now, I am going to break the silence right here and now, because "She," the opening track to this disc, is that kind of track for me. The first time I heard it I couldn't stand it. A cozy pop-rock tune planted under male vocals with a female backing, when they teamed up the noise was enough to drive me mad. But of course, I kept listening to the whole disc, and eventually that track over and over again. By the fourth time I heard it, the chorus ring of "she's the lullaby that puts me to sleep" kept rattling around in my head, and soon I found myself into the song. As for the rest of the disc, once I gained a fondness for "She," the rest of the disc came pretty easy. Both "Little Spider" and "Pinprick" are lead by Wendy Van Dusen, which is when the band is at their best. Both are well-crafted pop songs, so beautiful and enchanting, but you don't get the dueling vocals of Wendy and Sean. That's not to say I didn't like any of the songs Sean and Wendy teamed up on, but when Sean comes into a song a dark cloud casts its shadow over the rather up tempo, sweet, pop styles that Wendy holds on her own. "Falling In Love," however, does a beautiful job of combining both vocals. Sean's vocals cover the part of the male in the story, and the female's (you guessed it...) part is sang by Wendy. So soft and fragile, the song seems to have a need for affection, while the lyrics have a great since of pride and independence. The lyrics, and the story they calmly tell, is well-written and shows a deep emotional attachment, which will rub off on the listener. "Moonshine Lover" shows the dark side to this band, but unfortunately, this song is more chaos than it is music. Various noises mixed in with Sean moaning his words make this song one of the ones that is easily forgotten. Getting back on track, "The Wake" helps close out the CD with some promising pop-rock.

As a whole this disc isn't bad. I'll admit it, if it were nine tracks of just Wendy on lead vocals than I would like this CD a lot more, but the way it is isn't bad either. There are some parts that I skipped after hearing a few times, but for the most part this disc was a pretty good disc. Intriguing music backed with decent (sometimes great) lyrics, I'll give this album a B.

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