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Phil Von – Von Magnet

by François Zappa

The French-Spanish label Unknown Pleasures released last year the latest album by Phil Von, former member of the iconoclastic act Von Magnet. He has named this new album after his former band, so we see convenient to tell you a little more about the artist’s past in order to better understand the work. Von Magnet has been released in a nice hexagonal digipak format and in digital. We are going to comment on the CD version, which has three more tracks than the downloadable version.

Von Magnet, the band, was born in the mid-eighties as a musical-theatre company around Flore Magnet and Phil Von. In 1986, they released their first single, entitled I, still with a more industrial sound, which was followed three years later by El Sexo Surrealista, a more mature work in which they developed their so-called Electroflamenco. The band continued releasing and recording albums until Archipielagos in 2012, and this Von Magnet we are discussing today was to be their last, but they split up when they were working on it. That’s why we find among the musicians who have participated in the recording a good part of what was Von Magnet: Def, Tit’o, Yana Maizel and Hugues Villette.

But before splitting up, Phil Von had already made his solo debut with L’Autre Nuit, an album recorded with The Gnawa Musicians Of Fès in 2001. In his career, either with his band or on his own, he had begun to add Eastern and Eastern European sounds, as we can see in his previous album, which included a live performance in which he reinterpreted old Lithuanian compositions with Rokas Zubovas. In recent years he has also produced Algirdas Klova, a master of Lithuanian folk music, who passed away in 2021, who also plays on this album. Lately we had seen Phil as a guest on Theatre Of Cruelty, the latest album by HIV+, the Unknown Pleasures label boss, which also featured several great collaborators such as Marc Hurtado and Alice Botté.

With this we have the band, the musicians and the label presented, so let’s review the album. “Ultima Chispa” works as the intro to the album, where we hear the classic flamenco sounds (the guitar and later the shouts) with an electronic rhythm based on the “cajón” and the “zapateado”, the latter made by Phil Von himself. This is one of the album’s strongest points, as the rhythmic part of the album is’¡ based almost entirely on flamenco elements, treated in a more electronic way, but which gives the music a more human touch. “Tout” is a fantastic composition that sounds more Arabic, with hand-clapping percussion, a dark touch and the remarkable intensity of Phil’s singing.

In “Let Me Dive” we highlight Dani Barba’s guitar, undoubtedly one of the protagonists of the album. “The Map of My Worlds” starts more electronic and is one of the songs sung in English, although the language doesn’t matter when it is sung with so much passion and pain. Handclaps and “zapateados” mark the rhythm of “Envol”, this time with half in English and the other half sung starkly in Spanish, in pure “cantaor” style. “Antecamara” is a very cinematic instrumental track with another great guitar work by Dani Barba. “Physalide” starts with Phil’s “quejío”, has a flamenco dance rhythm and oriental airs provided by the violin of the recently deceased Algirdas. “Golpe de Gracia” is the most purely flamenco track with an interesting electronic part and is one of the best on the album.

We reach the end with “Diluvio”, with Algirdas’ violin giving an extraordinary display of class with, in the background, Hugues Vincent’s cello. The percussion arrives later and the cello takes the protagonist for a while. The album comes to an end with “Whispered Future”, with another great start by Algirdas on violin that soon mixes with the electronic part. The track, quite complex, could be divided into three parts. Coming to the second, it takes on a mysterious Arabic air and Phil whispers rather than sings. It is a perfect closing for the album.

Von Magnet is undoubtedly the most “flamenco” album we’ve talked about so far sy El Garaje. It’s not a genre I’m completely unfamiliar with, as being Spanish, I’ve been to a few concerts in the past. For those of you who are not familiar with Phil Von‘s previous works, remember that this path has also taken by projects such as the Omega album that Enrique Morente recorded with Lagartija Nick, a band that took its name from the Bauhaus song. Flamenco and Goth music had already met in the work of the legendary Claustrofobia, and we should also highlight the oriental influences brought to us by the legendary Crammed Discs label. So give this great album a chance, you won’t be disappointed. A great album to listen to without prejudice.

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