Phonograph's sound is a combination of city and country, analog and digital, organic and synthetic. The Brooklyn-based outfit enhances their country-edged guitar-based rock foundation with some artful studio trickery. It's a formula similar to what Wilco is doing, so it's no surprise, consequently, to see that Wilco bassist John Stirratt is a Phonograph booster. A good example of their sonic blend comes on the aptly named "Nu Americana." Although the lyrics don't take a self-referential look at the Americana music scene, the song's musical arrangement nicely mixes slightly rustic guitar riffs with the buzzing effects of an Octave CAT synthesizer. On "Watch and Wait," the band conjures up a darkly mysterious mood built around soaring electric guitars, a Casiotone 101, and a monosynth. Similarly, "T.V. Screens" makes strong use of such vintage instruments as a Lowery organ and an Octagon. But Phonograph offers much more than just studio effects and old equipment. "Parsons White" takes a "Let It Rain"-like riff and adds in some squalling electric guitars to create something both atmospheric and quite powerful. While this tune is somewhat elliptical lyrically, the band takes a more straightforward narrative tack on two of its stronger tracks, "Have I Told You" and "Thinking of You." The former, a loping twangy number punctuated with ambient treatments and guitar feedback, conveys a quite open-hearted message of love. The latter tunes, propelling by a bouncy beat, boasts the cutting jibe "Don't treat me like a fool now babe/I'm smarter than the other men who appear in your days." Singer Matthew Welsh, whose voice sounds like Tom Petty crossed with a bit of Grant Lee Phillips, delivers the line with a flatness that downplays the lyric's sarcasm. The band does a terrific job of balancing their arty and rock-y elements to make post-modern Americana music that isn't rooted in old-school traditions but yet has not gone over the deep end into avant-garde noodling either.
AllMusic Review by Michael Berick