Album Review: Punch Brothers, 'The Phosphorescent Blues'


Punch Brothers 'Phosphorescent Blues'
Punch Brothers, 'Phosphorescent Blues' (© 2015 Nonesuch Records.)

Punch Brothers fall into a somewhat indefinable category of music. On the surface it sounds like straight-up bluegrass with the banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, upright bass and impeccably tight harmonies. And then there's a drum, which steps outside the boundaries of bluegrass — and that's kind of punk rock, isn't it? Punch Brothers also have one foot firmly planted in classical music, and that seeps into their records and live performances as well. All of these genres collide on the fourth full-length, The Phosphorescent Blues, from the boundary-busting "prog-grass" quintet.

The album vacillates between Beach Boys-esque orchestral-like arrangements under beautiful, tight harmonies, like on the ten-and-a-half-minute album opener, "Familiarity"; to songs that erupt in complete joy like on "I Blew It Off"; to what could be a hip-hop beat in "My Oh My." And a song like "Passepied," the fourth and final movement of Claude Debussy's Suite bergamasque, shows off the boys' classical chops and proves how dynamic an album The Phosphorescent Blues is.

All of these sounds combine to shape a concept album about mobile technology in our lives. Frontman Chris Thile sings about it on "I Blew It Off," which contains lyrics such as, "Your trouble vibrates the table," and "There's nothing to say that couldn't just as well be sent. I've got an American share of 21st-century stress."

During Punch Brothers' in-studio session at The Current, Thile mentioned that this album is his version of The Beach Boys' Smile record. You really hear that. It's not just in the harmonies or the fact that it is a concept record; it's because The Phosphorescent Blues is a timeless collection of songs.

Audience ratings for this album

Seventy-three percent of The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album gave it 5 stars out of 5. Poll closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 13.

Related Stories

  • Punch Brothers perform in The Current studio On tour supporting their new album, 'The Phosphorescent Blues', Punch Brothers stopped in to The Current to play some songs and to chat with Bill DeVille. Somewhat inadvertently, the album turned out to have a lot to say about smartphone technology. 'It's just trying to recognize that [the smartphone] has changed everything, and we have to figure out a way to make it work for us and not the other way around,' says lead singer and mandolin player Chris Thile.
  • Interview: Chris Thile Known for his work in the bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, musician Chris Thile is stepping into new territory this weekend and next when he fills in for Garrison Keillor as host of 'A Prairie Home Companion'. "As long as I can avoid 20 minutes of dead air," Thile tells The Current's Steve Seel, "I'll consider it to be something of a success." Listen to the complete interview.

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