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The Road Home…

Evan Phillips’ Silhouettes

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First published in Anchorage Press - May 14, 2015
Words by Teeka Ballas, F Magazine

Evan Phillips, lead singer of the nationally acclaimed roots rock band The Whipsaws, pulls his shadow away from the uber masculine jam band and adheres it to his forthcoming self-produced solo album Silhouettes, revealing a contemplative and guileless thumbprint. Like a master carpenter, he carves with finesse a kinetic sculpture that waxes impressions reminiscent of Nick Drake’s ponderous guitar, Wilco’s no-surprise-punches songwriting, and Fleet Foxes’ rapturous melodies.

Born and raised in Alaska, with roots firmly planted, Phillips has – most likely drawn from his years of touring with The Whipsaws and the impermanent transitory group Easton Stagger Phillips – succinctly captured the heartache and yearning, the promise and the fatigue of being a nomad. The central theme of this album is laced with highways, open roads, captured sunsets, walking, running, waiting, seeking to settle down.

    Phillips’ first solo album in three years, and what took five years to amass, is impressively distinguishable from his past solo recordings (Goodnight My Dearest Stranger – 2012, Songs from Lake Irene – 2007 and Chikaloon – 2004). With an essence of temperance mixed with the release of fortitude, Phillips delivers stronger vocals, an impressive conglomeration of exceptional musical talent, and amplified intent.

   The opening track, Falling Down sets the mood and theme of the album. As a catchy song with a strong melody and clever harmonies is prone to do, it slips into the back of the head and loiters there, the kind of song that’s hard to shrug off. Yet it’s not the best track on the album. Phillips sings: I don’t mind being patient for a while. I don’t mind being patient for sometime – he’s in essence revealing the payoff is to come.

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   That’s not to say there are blatant flaws with any of the tracks, or that you have to wait long for a payoff. The title song, track 3, is a stunning field of sound that tickles the senses.

   By the time you give up your travelling, I’ll be looking far beyond the silhouettes. September skyline, feels like coming home again. There comes a time to give away all the emptiness that you keep inside.

   With sparse but intentional vocals, layered and harmonized with Courtney Andrews’ beatific voice (found throughout the album), this track is wrought with moodiness and desire. Phillips allows this song to breathe, drawing out notes like subtle inclinations; with the inclusion of Phillips’ field recordings and Bryan Daste’s flavors on steel guitar, electric 12 string and e-bow, the outcome is an orchestral symphonic that allows the scant amount of lyrics to revel in their profundity. Like a post rock instrumental band (think Explosions in the Sky), this song flows seamlessly into the next track, After School Special, a short instrumental that meshes sounds and stylings to give the effect of revelations and epiphanies.

Track 4, Let Me Let You, is where Silhouettes explodes. Cameo vocals by Meg Mackey and Emma Hill are a sweet addition to this song (alas, they’re just there for a few “ahs” and “oohs”) but Corwyn Wilkey’s trumpet – with the identifiable sound and styling he has mastered – punctuates the song and takes it to an elevated playing field.

Phillip’s vocals and lyrics reach an epic peak in Lost in the Night, track 8. It is arguably, the best song on the album. Harmonies shared between he and Andrews are brilliantly paired, even as he throws his heart on the ground and gives it a good thrashing while he sings, Stay here tonight. Keep me in your mind so I can’t deny how your air keeps me alive and stops me from drowning.

Two strokes of nostalgia are prominent on Silhouettes: that hour after the bonfire has dulled to embers and stray sparks, when only the dew of morning is still rapt in your company; and rainy days curled up on the couch in front of the window, rivulets of water on glass reminding you the safety and comfort of roofs.

It is this sort of sentiment that dominates the closing of Silhouettes. The final track carries you home, promises you closure, and kisses you gently on the forehead.

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