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Phoenix’s Top 20 Songs

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Phoenix-General 1- Arnaud Potier

After having their music in Sophia Coppola movies and following a stint as Air’s backing band, Phoenix broke through to the mainstream with 2009’s colossal Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Lead-singer Thomas Mars married Coppola, and the band set their return for April 23rd with Bankrupt!. Now that they’ve got Coachella under their belt, they’ve officially reached headliner status. But it’s taken the band over a decade to climb to the top tier, so we looked back at 20 songs that got them here.

20. “Chloroform”

Album: Bankrupt! (2013)

“Chloroform” is the dim-the-lights showstopper on Bankrupt!’s B-side. Its uber-base piano/synth line nearly breaks the scale, while lightweight keys spiral above like the cartoon birds one might see if falling to the ground on account of well, chloroform. As Thomas Mars tells us his love is, his love is, his love is cruel, the song unravels further instead of collapsing under its early power, a delicate move that the band effortlessly pulls off. The song is married to its preceding track, “Drakkar Noir”, both on the album and in recent setlists, allowing the two to enter and exit together with a bell curve of volume. -Amanda Koellner

19. “Girlfriend”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

Penultimate tracks are tricky business. Often, their position as the preview to the final song allows bands to get lazy, slotting in a weaker track they know won’t steal the thunder from their closer. Phoenix, however, are willing to risk it. “Girlfriend” isn’t a towering song, but it’s a great one. Smooth and instantly memorable, the song succeeds by stacking hooks next to each other like books on a shelf, one following another in joyous if slapdash succession: there’s the extended, languid enunciation of the song’s titular phrase, the trembling primary guitar line, the dreamy and delicate post-chorus keyboard melody. “Girlfriend” is a three-minute testament to the fact that Phoenix do quiet and contemplative with a gusto and verve that sets them apart. -Chris Bosman

18. “The Real Thing”

Album: Bankrupt! (2013)

In an interview with Fader, Phoenix declared Bankrupt! to be a return to writing for music’s sake. After a rewarding tour behind Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the band admitted they consistently thought about success and had lost touch with “The Real Thing”. The track sheds discovery from the ground up with voluminous synth lines paired with the lyrical confession, “How could I have missed it?”, delivered with only the smoothest falsetto. Phoenix’s experimental side has enough context to inject life into stadiums everywhere. -Sam Willett

17. “Holdin’ On Together”

Album: Alphabetical (2004)

Alphabetical is a record that carves perfect pop melodies that will linger around your mind for days, whether the band is run, run, running to make a quick buck or fondling “words of love in broken English” amongst mysterious women. The chorus of “Holdin’ On Together” lives up to the same standard. Mars’ laid back intonation revives lyrical hooks that could animate ’80s dance clubs familiar to Earth Wind and Fire and The Gap Band. The band surrounding him fashions this style with instrumentals that are pungent and well-defined. This collected scene diffuses an irresistible urge to groove and sing along, calling back the desire to be youthful and restless. -Sam Willett

16. “Funky Squaredance (Part 1/2/3) (Medley)”

Album: United (2000)

Everything about this song should scream “absurd”; from the title to the vocoder-inundated country swing of the first two-and-three-quarter minutes. And, truthfully, it is absurd, but in a way that is so quintessential to Phoenix that the whole thing ends up working as a one-track chef d’oeuvre of the band’s existence. Dig through their catalog and you’ll find country guitars alongside ripping solos, funky bass, synth-driven R&B, and abstruse lyrics often carrying profound meaning; all of that is present over the three phases of this medley. Like an aural oracle, they boiled down their whole career before it even happened, and put it on their debut album. Then they enlisted Roman Coppola to make an equally absurdist-yet-meaningful video-Ben Kaye

15. “North”

Album: It’s Never Been Like That (2006)

Along with the band’s mastery of the 10-track record, the art of the interlude is a proud monument that elevates the wholesome depth of a Phoenix record. Mars calls these alleviations “a little balance in jammed chaos.” “North” composes the dense compression of It’s Never Been Like That with a new heartbeat, in a sense. Instead of the guitar tracks moving hastily between each other, Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai stretch the meter of their gentle picking while drawing a beautiful and calming landscape, further enhanced by bassist Deck d’Arcy. As these dominant melodies pick up speed, snare drum cracks gradually follow the pace, giving Mars’ gentle, lupine howl a nice fervor. This gentle slide in momentum gradually places the band right where they left off and, voila, the album’s off to a fresh new start. -Sam Willett

14. “Everything is Everything”

Album: Alphabetical (2004)

The kick off to Phoenix’s 2004’s Alphabetical, “Everything Is Everything” begins bleak as Mars sings of change (but not for the better), hopelessness, and longing. It’s an existential crisis in a song that still manages to manifest into a sexy Neptunes-pop groove that could dominate top 40 radio if you gave it even the lightest sprinkling of boy-band spark. Chock full of catchy beats, semi-cheesy background talking, and a bridge that goes, “Riding low, riding low, riding faster / This is what I want, I’ve always wanted you,” its shameless french pop, complete with jazzy acoustic guitars and an absolutely enchanting triangle. -Amanda Koellner

13. “If It’s Not With You”

Album: Alphabetical (2004)

When Phoenix whipped out the smooth and jammed out “Honeymoon” on United, it was clear that they were on to something. The band’s sophomore beat, Alphabetical, takes this delicacy to heart while being sewn together with neo-soul and funk flavors. The song transposes a deep organ into tripping solos from synthesized Rhodes keyboards that are just sensual and sticky. They only delve deeper into these sexual landscapes with crisp vocal harmonies, placing emphasis on being “together” with Mars’ one and only. Brancowitz and Lazzalai contribute with smooth sweeps of jazzy guitar licks, bringing the track back to Earth. “If It’s Not With You” reaches a organic height that Phoenix had never reached before, transposing a groove that continues to thrive with distinction amongst their catalog. -Sam Willett

12. “One Time Too Many”

Album: It’s Never Been Like That (2006)

Behind the firework show that commences their third studio album, Phoenix also uncovers a sensitive dimension to the songs featured on It’s Never Been Like That. “One Time Too Many” takes a step back and creates an array of harmonious instrumental riffs between both guitar parts and a synthesizer that evoke empathy with every strum. Mars’ vocals reap influence from the sensuality found on Alphabetical while contributing to this finesse. In a live setting, the band discovered an acoustic performance to be most proper, which allows every invigorating layer to cut through audience members’ ears and lyrics like “then it’s to tell you kindly that ain’t what I’m like” to tangle their hearts. -Sam Willett

11. “Lasso”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

The demanding keyboards disguised as drums backbone this frenzied track, which cleverly deceives, as even the drumroll is as birthed “straight from a crappy synthesizer.” The layered rhythms steer the song until the guitar solo, rare in Phoenix’s catalog, springs to childlike life, playfully plucking its way into Mars’ dueling contemplations at the end: “Tomorrow is a long, long time when you’ve lost your way / Forever is a long, long time when you’ve lost your way.” -Amanda Koellner

10. “Run Run Run”

Album: Alphabetical (2004)

Where United was an all-over-the-map cacophony of art, Alphabetical saw Phoenix keeping it discreet and deliberately slow (hence the four years between albums). “Run Run Run” enters with naught but a stumbling acoustic guitar and what follows is an unassuming number subtly belying the craft the band members were honing. From d’Arcy’s Moog-squelched bass to the synth notes floating behind the chorus, there’s an effortless cool running (ha) throughout. The output surrounding this album was/has been mostly characterized by explosive pop and rock numbers. With this track, the Parisian quartet demonstrated a knack for careful construction that is integral to keeping those bigger numbers from falling flat or getting old. “If you got to play the game,” Mars sings in his nearly-trademarked impassive coo during the final verse, “You got to do it well.” -Ben Kaye

9. “Love Like a Sunset Part 1”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

It’s a shame Bankrupt! lacks a musical interlude, a hallmark of their past records. The title cut comes close, but jumps ship around the 4:35 mark. Technically, “Love Like a Sunset Part I” is one half of a song that has lyrics a-plenty in part II, but what makes the instrumental work on its own is the arc, a completed story from inception to resolution. Dazed synths over the droning haze are like a dream; when they return as incessant plinking and the hollow plucking of guitars builds the action (anyone else reminded of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles score?), you’re awakened to an unfamiliar, lens-flared world. Rising synths, quickening drums, anxious guitars all swarm together and crash into buzzing, leaving the feeling that you’ve undergone a paradigm shift you can’t understand. It’s a powerful journey on a record of body-moving pop songs, accomplished with not a word uttered. -Ben Kaye

8. “Armistice”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

A little over halfway through this track, a key-driven breakdown shifts the weight and feel of the song until the music finally emerges on the other side of what Phoenix calls a “tunnel”, only to disappear, and with it goes the album. This was written to feel like the 30 seconds the band experienced driving through a tunnel on the way from the studio in Paris to their home in Versailles. It’s one of the strongest closing songs on any record of the past decade, and the sentiment behind it fits the bill. As one of the band’s members said in the “Armistice” installment of the album’s Musicvision Series, “To me, that’s the album, this moment … Nighttime and the St. Cloud tunnel.” -Amanda Koellner

7. “If I Ever Feel Better”

Album: United (2000)

As much as United was a glorious hodgepodge, “If I Ever Feel Better” is indicative of what would come from a career filled with catchy, grooving pop gems. Those organs and chiming guitars, the smooth sounds of bands like AIR mixed with the electronic funk of Daft Punk, may not have been the most expected sounds for a Parisian rock act, but made perfect sense considering Phoenix’s history with those acts. Partially masked by the hooky beat are lyrics of depression hindering social interactions, sadly relatable even as the funky progression has you bopping along. What keeps this debut single so good, and somehow still fresh, is that with a few tweaks here or there, the track could slide onto almost any of their later records (well, maybe not Bankrupt!). -Ben Kaye

6. “Napoleon Says”

Album: It’s Never Been Like That (2006)

Opening It’s Never Been Like That, “Napoleon Says” marked the second phase of Phoenix. Without denying their previous two albums, the band released the tension from their shoulders, cracked their neck, and adopted a new attitude apparent from the first “hunh” pushed between Mars’ lips. Phoenix, the pop band, had arrived in all its danceable glory. The track’s lyrics also exemplify songwriting that the band now refers to as “being influenced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” (That’s two TMNT references in one list. I’ll retire now.) Just as a quartet of mutant turtles named after Renaissance artists fighting crime is completely illogical, Napoleon Bonaparte telling you to “take off your long johns” leaves one smiling in utter confusion. Best guess, it’s about the band taking advantage of groupies finding French accents sexy. But who cares; turn it up and get to dancing. -Ben Kaye

5. “Long Distance Call”

Album: It’s Never Been Like That (2006)

Some people will always go to war with The Bends over OK Computer and Kid A every day of the week. For those people, the “best Phoenix album” battle that sometimes happens between It’s Never Been Like That and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix goes obviously to the former, with the run from “Napoleon Says” to “Long Distance Call” as the opening, crushing salvo: a run of undeniable, highly memorable guitar-pop songs that feature killer choruses. Funny story, though, it’s hard to determine what exactly is the chorus on “Long Distance Call”. Is it the bright, rapid-fire title-track chanting? The song’s ascending, cresting, song-title referencing, strangely Western hiccup? Or is it the awkward-kid-at-the-high-school dance synth stabs paired with that shifting 70s drum sound? Better question: when they’re all this enjoyable, does it matter? -Chris Bosman

4. “Too Young”

Album: United (2000)

Perhaps most famous for soundtracking the late-night Tokyo escapades of a camo-clad Bill Murray and adorably fresh and vulnerable Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation, “Too Young” put Phoenix on the map (we just didn’t know how big their blip would get). The band’s debut album, United, kicks off with the instrumental “School’s Rules”, rendering this second track our first collective glimpse at Mars’ effortless croon. This synthy pop song embodies the fragile combination of seclusion and connection delicately explored in Coppola’s aforementioned film as the chorus and verses ebb and flow between ecstasy and gloom. -Amanda Koellner

3. “Lisztomania”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

What Phoenix has always done well, and never better than on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, is to combine musical worldviews that look at the classical and the modern with equal reverence. “Lisztomania” is probably the most representative of these qualities; it’s basically there in the song title for fuck’s sake. On Wolfgang‘s opening track, Mars’ words seem almost incidental, but the vocal line weaves like a high Bach violin melody; the band’s rhythm section knocks the doors down with a swing-rock groove that could have killed playing immediately after Back to the Future‘s “Johnny B. Goode” scene; a keyboard line that sneaks into the background pirouttes through the otherwise densely considered preceedings takes over on the song’s back end and gives the track a modern, whirling dervish feel. A song that feels like it’s about the difficulties of songwriting and performing (“From a mess to the masses!”) becomes, to indulge into some meta-commentary, a song that exemplifies both those difficulties and what exactly it feels like when you nail a success. -Chris Bosman

2. “Consolation Prizes”

Album: It’s Never Been Like That (2006)

When Phoenix performed “Consolation Prizes” on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2006, Thomas Mars revealed a new, confident swagger by sliding his suit jacket off his shoulders (although it was a bit rough — being a smooth showman isn’t exactly part of his day job) within a breathe of silence proceeding the first chorus. As the band froze behind him, they were dismembered from their comfortable skin, inspiring them to recreate the melodies living through their past two releases with a new spunk. Mars redesigns the band’s outfit as he belts, “spit out your lies and chewing gum /cut off your hair, yeah that’s it! / If you look like that, I swear I’m gonna love you more.” When they crack back into the second verse, Phoenix celebrates their new identity with soaring guitar melodies and sustained ahhs surrounding the chorus’ lyrics.”Consolation Prizes” is the costume change that allowed the band’s drive to reverberate and excite listeners’ ears around the world for the first time. As more people came to love the song, Phoenix’s ambition to become a band worth knowing was achieved. -Sam Willett

1. “1901”

Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

Look, okay, maybe it’s not exactly “edgy” or whatever to say that Phoenix’s best song is the one that kinda sorta okay did make its name off of being in a car commercial (And it wasn’t even a cool car either!). But the reason that it was “1901” in that car commercial is exactly because it’s Phoenix’s best song. No other track captures the vitality, the audacity, the electricity, or the pure joy of Phoenix better. No single sound better encapsulated their presumptive mission statement better than the crushing, molasses-dense synth chords that serve as the song’s most memorable moment. No other lyric is more fun to shout along with at the top of your lungs than “Folded! Folded! Folded!” as the insistent, neo-disco groove of the rhythm section shakes dance floors. Everything about “1901” is forward movement, and in a career of moments that felt they were building toward something, it was “1901” that personified what that “something” was. There’s no need to make contrarian statements in a list like this; “1901” is inarguable. -Chris Bosman

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