Usually the line to initially roll out for reviews like this is “this band should be much bigger than they are”, but Phoxjaw do often seem like an exception to that. It might seem strange, especially considering last year’s Goodbye Dinosaur… EP saw them driving deep into fertile post-hardcore ground for a sound much more varied and combustible than most of their Britrock contemporaries, but that ultimately serves to just prove the point. They’re not a band for whom crossover is a main goal, and that’s definitely a good thing; they can therefore be placed in the same camp as a band like Black Peaks, for whom progression and musical richness ultimately comes first, and any wider recognition comes from the fact that they’re simply that good at what they do. Thus, it makes sense that A Playground For Sad Adults finds Phoxjaw breaking their sound open even further rather than condensing it down, and now with the larger platform thanks to backing from Hassle Records, they could be in the midst of their Black Peaks-esque breakthrough moment.
Admittedly that’s a tough ask for any band, let alone one who are only just up to their second EP, but it’s not like Phoxjaw can’t hold their own amidst the pressure. Their brand of post-hardcore simply has too much of a creative streak to buckle so easily, and A Playground For Sad Adults feels like the next step in harnessing just what this band is capable of, and how much of a great release they have in them. That is to say, this isn’t it quite yet, but the fact that this is a fairly noticeable expansion on the foundations that Phoxjaw had previously laid down where nothing has really been lost speaks volumes as to what this band are capable of.
And when comparing A Playground… with its predecessor, it’s rather easy to see where those advancements have been made. This is definitely a more spacious release, drifting through haunted, almost ethereal passages of gentle guitars, and an angularity that highlights that darkness in a more visceral fashion where the comparisons to Cave In and early Biffy Clyro can truly be felt, like on the sweeping, curdling enormity of the closer The Curse Of The Button Man. There’s dissonance that’s being embraced here, and even if Phoxjaw aren’t quite as confident with it as some more experienced players (probably the biggest shortcoming this EP has, in all honesty), the fact that they’re willing to launch themselves in and fully commit to experimenting is what establishes such a remarkable sense of personality. Quirkiness seems like too pejorative of a term here, but the weird lyrical shifts and intonations that are immediately noticeable in Danny Garland’s voice on Melt, You’re A Face Of Wax and Bodiesinthewall inject an almost theatrical sensibility to further jostle with the madness. And if that can all seem like Phoxjaw are trying too much at once or are out of their depth, it occasionally does, but it’s their confidence when approaching all of this that really takes them over the finish line with heads held high. After all, this is a rather experimental EP, and with a song like Whale, Whale, Whale that feels as though it’s built to withstand these sorts of shifts, rather than having them piled into a more standard song structure like a less savvy band would attempt, it shows a knowledge on Phoxjaw’s part of what they’re doing that’ll undoubtedly take them far.
And even if they’re not quite to the point of real greatness yet, that counts for a lot, especially at an early stage like this. A Playground For Sad Adults continues to show a diversity and adroitness to Phoxjaw that only looks to be increasing, and they’re moving forward with the sort of steam that will only aid any future bids for crossover potential. And yes, even off the back of only two EPs, it’s easy to get the impression that Phoxjaw are going to truly thrive within that niche of British rock, especially if they can continue moving forward with this level of poise and momentum. There’s always going to be a place for bands like this, and Phoxjaw are currently eying up the apex.
For fans of: Reuben, At The Drive In, Black Peaks
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Playground For Sad Adults’ by Phoxjaw is released on 5th July on Hassle Records