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Phoenix, France

If I had to guess, I would say that there was one band that was not particularly excited to ring in the New Year. That would be French electro-rockers Phoenix. Not that the band didn’t have a lot to celebrate, but when you have a year like they did you want to ride it out as long as possible. To say that 2009 was a “good” year for Phoenix would be an epic understatement. Phoenix didn’t just have a “good” year, they had the sort of breakout many bands spend their entire careers trying to have, only to find their failed every December 31. Phoenix went from total unknowns to undeniable mainstream success.

So what was the key to the bands success? Well, they made some really good music.

The quartet made up of childhood friends from Versailles (Laurent Brancowitz, Thomas Mars, Christian Mazzalai and Deck D’Arcy) have been playing music together since the 90’s and even have connections to some other notable French acts. Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz, for example, played in a band called Darlin’ with Guy Manuel de Homme-Christo and Thomas Bangalter who would later go on to form Daft Punk. Thomas Mars sang vocals on Air’s “Playground Love” which was one of the highlights on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides. Coincidentally, Mars would eventually go on to start dating Coppola and the two now have a child together.

Phoenix have released five albums since 2000, most of which have had not much commercial success here in the states but all of which have been well received by the press. In the process it made them indie darlings amongst journalists and rock critics. The band showed a lot of promise with the 2006 album It’s Never Been Like That, which contained hit singles “Long Distance Call” and “Courtesy Laughs.” While the album managed to make some headway for the band it would be nothing compared to what was about to come.

When the band released their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix on May 26, it was almost instantly regarded as classic. Thanks in large part to the undeniable catchiness of its two lead singles “1901” and “Lisztomania,” it was raved about by just about everyone and was tagged Best New Music by Pitchfork. And, why not? Any band that can come up with as catchy a tune about 19th century Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt deserve all the praise that they receive. Even though Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix clocks in at a meager 37 minutes long each of the ten tracks on the album are masterfully crafted gems that are almost impossible not to enjoy.

The band was catapulted from indie darlings to breakout stars overnight. They made appearances on Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. The song “1901” has been featured on commercials for Cadillac, movie trailers and network television shows. Their album has topped critics best of the year lists from everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix even spawned so many remixes from top artist such as Animal Collective and Passion Pit that an entire album of remixes was eventually released. And to top it off they were nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Alternative Album” category.

Yeah, not too shabby of a year I’d say.

The trick now is to see if Phoenix can carry over the success they experienced in 2009 to beyond. While we probably won’t see a new album from the band any time soon, Phoenix will continue to tour in support of Wolfgang Phoenix Amadeus where they are sure to continue winning over audiences for a long time to come.
Mon., Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m., 2010


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