If given the chance to record an album anywhere, where would you pick? Would you go the traditional route and pick some classic recording studios, like Abbey Road, Sound City, or Electric Lady? Or, would you take the unconventional route and prioritize atmosphere, helming an album with Rick Rubin “on top of a mountain” in Costa Rica like The Strokes did? Or craft your band’s opus at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles — the location of the infamous Manson murders — a la Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral?
For Phoenix‘s seventh studio album, Alpha Zulu (out this Friday, November 4th), they’ve picked one of the most extravagant and unconventional locations to record it in: Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which is part of the Louvre Palace in Paris. It’s a fitting choice for the indie pop band regardless of the final product; Phoenix have heavily explored their baroque, classically European impulses across their last six records, and after all, one of their biggest hits is named after the 19th century composer Franz Liszt.
But the sound of Alpha Zulu is classic in a different sense. Many of the tracks hearken back to their seminal 2009 effort, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but they reflect on the past with a wistful eye and a renewed sense of energy. The melodies of Alpha Zulu leave a lasting impression — frontman Thomas Mars begins “Season 2” with “Giddy up, I’m bored,” a trace of absurdity swimming in his galloping lines.
Highlight “Tonight,” which features fellow indie icon Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, features some of the same plucked guitar and escalating synth lines from “1901,” but the lyrics are wiser and more thoughtful. And “Winter Solstice,” though inspired by a rather dystopian image, throbs with euphoric, emotionally palpable synths.
The band may have selected a legendary location to craft Alpha Zulu, but it’s not the first time they’ve recorded outside a traditional studio. “We’ve always tried to find an unusual place, a place that’s not dedicated for music, to a ridiculous extent sometimes,” Thomas Mars tells Consequence over Zoom in early September. “We recorded on a Bateaux Mouches on the Seine River on a boat, which is a terrible idea because you get seasick,” he says. “It was terrible music!”
Luckily, the band, who is rounded out by bassist Deck d’Arcy and guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai, have friendship at the core of their music. The pandemic marked the first extended period of time where they all didn’t hang out, and an even longer wait to resume the process of recording their seventh album together. “We’ve always seen each other every two, three weeks max, but this time, it took like 10 months to be reunited,” says Mars. “So I think that gave a lot of extra gravitas and passion and weight to this album.” That passion is extremely evident in Alpha Zulu, and the resulting collection of songs are some of their finest to date.
Below, Phoenix’s Thomas Mars discusses recording the album in the Louvre, their new live show, and getting back in the swing of touring.