Full of gorgeous orchestral arrangements and heart-wrenching lyrics, this is Eartheater's best album yet.
Recorded in relative isolation during an artistic residency in Zaragoza, Spain, the LP is Drewchin's most unguarded since her debut. It also features strings from the Ensemble de Camara, harp and violin from her friends and other lush touches. Her voice covers more ground, with her trademark high-pitched squalls curling into new rich lows. Here, the extremes of Eartheater come closer to merging, as she probes even deeper into her own feelings, existence and contradictions.
The title Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin hearkens back to the themes of Trinity, which was a record about the three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Only now she's everything at once, the image of flames rendering as dew meant to signal a new, "perfect equilibrium," according to Drewchin. The lyrics are further inspired by geology, likely influenced by the Casetjón Mountains that surrounded her while she recorded the album.
Her lyrics touch on volcanoes, bedrock, ashes and diamonds, metaphors for her body and mind, for feelings and thoughts trapped underground. That's the idea of first single, "Below The Clavicle," a bewitching chamber pop song where she sings about an idea stuck deep within her, below her collarbone, because "the meaning hasn't come up yet." Each wrenching, whistle-register enunciation of "clavicle" feels like an attempted exorcism, trying to get that meaning out, as layers of her voice intertwine like a choir.
There's a sense of synthesis on Phoenix, the opposite of the jagged edges on a record like IRISIRI. Take "Kiss Of The Phoenix," an alluring interlude where strings and vocals swoop and dovetail while passing through filters and gauntlets of glitch. It's a slicker version of the acoustic-electronic hybrids of her earliest work, and it shows how far she's come as a producer. "Burning Feather" pairs ugly, processed sounds with heavenly vocals, while "Bringing Me Back" features acoustic guitar that glows with warmth.
The production on Phoenix is jaw-dropping. It comes to life in the album's centrepiece "Volcano," a heart-rending song with icy-cold piano and a stellar vocal performance highlighting Drewchin's lower register. In another world, this is a '90s alt-rock ballad hit—her version of "Disarm"—with emotional and unsettling lyrics: "I'm still in this town, the same old town / I'm still building mountains underground," she sings, "Grinding bones to break my bread, grinding on a skull to get ahead." She's "full of love" and "full of lava," begging for release—"Give me that good collision... don't speak / Like two tectonic plates, make the earth quake / Led the bedrock / My volcano."
"Volcano" is a song about being stuck and unable to move forward, begging for some cataclysmic event to change things. But it signals the biggest growth in Drewchin's career, tying together her penchant for hyperreal vocals, personal and often sexual lyrics and electroacoustic production into something like an opus. From its earthy alternative pop songs to its orchestral glitch, it's like a survey of contemporary electronic music from the past 20 years, touching on Björk's intimate IDM, the swooping strings of Erased Tapes and the glitch and programmatic composition of Mark Fell. Phoenix fully establishes a distinct Eartheater style, building mountains underground and finding worlds of meaning in deep introspection.
Tue / 6 Oct 2020
01. Airborne Ashes
02. Metallic Taste Of Patience
03. Below The Clavicle
04. Burning Feather
05. How To Fight
06. Kiss Of The Phoenix
08. Fantasy Collision
09. Mercurial Nerve
10. Goodbye Diamond
11. Bringing Me Back
12. Diamond In The Bedrock
13. Faith Consuming Hope