PHASES may just be releasing their first album, but there’s nothing new about them. With members from Rilo Kiley, Bright Eyes, Phantom Planet, Maroon 5 and The Like, they originally came together in 2009 as the indie rock band JJAMZ. The departure of Maroon 5’s James Valentine led to a complete change of course, adopting the name PHASES and embracing the call of the glittery pop dancefloor for their debut album under the PHASES name, For Life.
Despite the complete 180 in sound, it sounds like they’ve been doing it for years. There’s a distinct 80s tinge to For Life, with the modern production quality keeping it from sounding dated. The opening track of Silhouette instantly shows you what you’re in for, with its retro synths hinting at a serious throwback track before the chorus brings in a flurry of beeps and a swirl of sound to help it feel modern. The first bonus track Paradise follows suit but takes a different approach, keeping the simple verses but filling the chorus with floaty guitars and a chorus of vocals backing up Berg, giving the song an angelic atmosphere that’s at odds with its bleak lyrics—I was witness to the end of the world/The last song and dance before the final collapse / I remembered every moment on earth / I started to laugh until my heart broke in half—making a thematically conflicting song with a really engaging hook.
The best of the best is Cooler: The buzzing wall of sound that signals the chorus offers the album’s strongest melody, while the mere sound of Berg’s voice gives the song a whole other level of emotion and heartbreak as she wails through the song’s main lyric—I really thought you were cooler. They tend to struggle on some of the mid-tempo tracks, with Spark in particular not being quite as engaging as the rest of the album. Other slow songs like Vertigo often make up for it though, as do the upbeat songs.
It’s not often that you see a band completely reinvent themselves and pull it off as flawlessly as PHASES do. For Life is a thrilling album, stuck pop music’s past and looking to the future all at the same time, while making the absolute most of it. Even better is their penchant for keeping the songs minimal, only adding the necessary elements to a song rather than overloading them. The intelligent little production choices are what make it such a strong album: For Life sees PHASES entering the strongest phase of their career.