October 19, 2016 Glen Phillips – Swallowed by the New (Album Review)
The American Singer/Songwriter Glen Phillips, having released a number of albums since 2001, is not really a new name in the Alternative Pop/Rock music scene. Phillips has been churning brilliant Alternative Pop songs as early as 1989 with his band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Phillips began his solo career in 1998 soon after the breakup of his band, releasing his first solo output in 2000, the Alternative Country/Folk–inspired Abulum. Two more followed, 2005’s melodic, well-polished Winter Pays for Summer and 2006’s Mr. Lemons, which pursued contemplative lyrical sentiments and folky sonic styling akin to the first album’s direction. Now, after a full decade, Phillips finally unleashes his fourth offering, Swallowed by the New.
Released on October 7, 2016, Phillips’ latest album is wrought with the artist’s trademark introspective lyricism, sung in his comforting pensive voice, and dominated by his warm acoustic strums. It opens with the breezy, strum-oriented slow croon of “Go.” This is followed by the cool and relaxed Country-flavored steady beat of “Baptistina.” The ensuing “Criminal Career” reverberates with its minimalist approach, yet the mood remains engaging. “Leaving Oldtown” changes the style, going Baroque Pop beautifully with the gloss of string orchestration that adorned the crisp-sounding guitar plucks and then building up into a full-band sound. It will fit in nicely on a playlist that includes Spent Poets’ “My Useless Heart,” Counting Crows’ “Right Here,” Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” Bush’s “Glycerine,” Barenaked Ladies’ “The Wrong Man Was Convicted,” and The Lotus Eaters’ “When You Look at Boys.”
“The Easy Ones” returns the listener to the general Alternative Country feel of the album, harking to the quiet moments of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s music; for instance, “Pray Your Gods.” Fans of Toad the Wet Sprocket will certainly pick “Amnesty” as their instant favorite from Phillips’ new album; its sunny vibes, danceable tempo, catchy melodies, and uplifting chorus will remind them of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soaring moments. Phillips turns even more meditative in the churchy, slow ballad “Grief and Praise.”
A similar slow pace is employed in the following “Unwritten,” which also sounds a bit haunting with its lingering piano flourishes, eerie vocal harmony, string accompaniment, and guitar swells. “There’s Always More” is another string-laden, heart-rending track that sings of longing. With the Gospel-flavored “Held Up,” Phillips was obviously channeling his Blues influences, in similar veins with U2’s excursion to the same spectrum during the Irish band’s Rattle and Hum phase. Finally, Phillips closes his album with the short, light, loungy, yet toe-tapping Traditional Pop/Blue-eyed, Soul–inspired “Reconstructing the Diary,” whose seemingly unfinished sound may prompt the listener to play the album over again.
The stylistic diversity of Swallowed by the New compensates for the ten-year gap between it and its predecessor. Lyrically, however, it sounds like Phillips never left at all. His songwriting magic could still cast a lovely spell on the senses of not only his longtime fans but also new and young music enthusiasts who prefer sonically light, but deeply worded songs about love and life. CrypticRock gives the album 4 out of 5 stars.