Boomkat Product Review:
Iconic Japanese experimentalist Phew returns to Mute for first time in 30 years with a haunted and strung out set of barely-there vox and submerged synths
“Rising to prominence with the art-punk group Aunt Sally before her first solo release in 1981, recorded at Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, Phew isn’t about to go soft on us.
“I wanted to exclude sentimentality,” she says of New Decade. “With the situation at the moment, I’ve got it lucky. Last year, in particular, just being alive was kind of a lucky state of affairs. Being able to openly express how you’re feeling, in spite of all that, is a sort of privilege you have as a musician or artist, and I felt like I shouldn’t abuse it.”
This has been a guiding principle for Phew in recent years, as she has amassed a body of solo work that melds her signature vocals with febrile, droning synthesisers and drum machines. Already well accustomed to working in isolation at home, keeping her voice down in order not to annoy the neighbours, New Decade is a stark and haunted album, populated by voices that intone empty pleasantries in English and Japanese or manifest as wordless shrieks and groans, against a backdrop of fractured, dubbed-out electronics.
Phew explains that there’s a loose concept running through the album, relating to the perception of time. “During the ’80s, and up until the ’90s, things progressed along a line from past to present to future, but I think that’s changed, especially since the start of the 21st century. Personally speaking, I’ve stopped being able to see a future that extends from the present.”
This is reflected in the unplaceable character of her current work. It’s not deliberately retro in the manner of many analogue synth revivalists, nor does Phew waste time trying to catch up with the latest trends. It’s music out of time, resonating to its own peculiar frequency.