On their audacious new album Flaming Swords, recorded in just one evening, Fievel Is Glauque’s distinctive jazz fusion demonstrates what’s made them such a hot commodity in such a short amount of time.
At this point, Zach Phillips has lived a myriad of lives. As the founder of the much-celebrated OSR Records, his management saw the release of some of the great oddball recordings either lost to time and supported by a cult following or struggling to burst out of the ether. In his former band Blanche Blanche Blanche, Phillips had an outlet for his prolific, often challenging mode of composition alongside Sarah Smith. Through this curation of his eclectic tastes in his many other solo musical projects as well as label development, Phillips has expressed a devotion to his peculiar aesthetic affiliation—one that is every bit as anomalous and eccentric as it is elaborate.
Fievel Is Glauque hasn’t been around that long, yet they carry with them a similarly bizarre mythology. Born from the literal wreckage of a minor accident Phillips was involved in while on his way to meet his future songwriting partner, Belgian vocalist Ma Clément, the band has moved rapidly in a short amount of time. A mono cassette with hardly any promotion behind it in 2021, a couple singles, and—bam!—Phillips and Clément are on tour with Stereolab, selling out high-profile shows with their backing band and earning themselves precious blog coverage. Their tireless creative ethos is admirable to the point of being almost intimidating, featuring highly technical fusion that is so fiercely independent, it nearly reads as stubborn. It’s also this ruthless adherence to their own form that makes their latest album, Flaming Swords, so compelling.
Recorded in only a few hours one late summer evening, Flaming Swords’ jazzy, pop complexity feels curious, whimsical, and exploratory. Phillips’ intricate and skillful arrangements often branch out and fold in on themselves in ways that seem effortless, as though the composer is simply using the instruments to carry on a conversation. The songs themselves are brief enough that even at 18 tracks, Flaming Swords sits at a comfortable 37-minute runtime, yet there is plenty of time to leap between various sonic stylings with ease. The album’s bite-sized brevity only serves to make the tracks more addicting—with each track offering a new, often dizzying burst of energy. It’s not necessarily an easy listen, but tracks such as “Days Of Pleasure” and “Constantly Rare” offer such highly condensed melodic and technical richness in such short packages that are hard to stay away from.
The virtuosity of the album’s players—who include Phillips on keys, Clément on vocals, and a band comprising guitar, bass, drums, and saxophone—transforms into a shared language, with each instrument feeling like it is communicating with the others. On the record’s more hectic moments, tracks arrive with an almost biblical intensity—like the eponymous “Flaming Swords” or “Less To Be,” it can almost feel like every instrument is soloing simultaneously, yet doesn’t feel overwhelming or sonically intrusive. On the softer, more melodic moments found in “Porn Of Love” and “The Trick,” the sound is more evocative of classical Chanson Réaliste than the rest of the album’s experimental and raucous roots.
Clément’s flutish voice works well as a foil to the noisier components of Flaming Swords, acting almost like a guiding beacon to shepherd the listener through the constantly branching musical segments. Her lyrics vary from forlorn musings to practical exaltations—fulfilled with a charming, sentimental intonation that adds an effortless emotional nuisance and a clever mind for melody to the album’s narrative. It’s no easy feat to accomplish this kind of poignant delivery within such a narrow timeframe, especially over nearly 18 tracks, yet with her uniquely silken tone, she commands strict attention and handles the task skillfully.
A cursory listen to Flaming Swords unveils the inimitable vision that’s propelled Fievel Is Glauque so far in such a short time. The album is hard to compare to any other musical movements happening right now, seemingly defying convention at every possible turn. Phillips and Clément, along with the band of players enlisted for this record harnessed a free-flowing, unrestricted creative spirit and contorted it into something angular, stupefying and endlessly listenable.
Jason Friedman is a writer who has haunted Philadelphia for a hundred years.