I spend a lot of late hours staring at my computer, whether I’m working on Opus, another website, or just writing e-mail. As such, I’m almost always up to some godforsaken hour, knowing that I’ll have to get up in a few hours so I can go to work and stare at another computer for another 8 hours. As usual, I’m listening to music at these times. Right now, I’m listening to Songs of Patrick Phelan and something’s really starting to click. It’s after midnight, my eyes are burning from staring at this monitor for too long, I’m tired, and this song I’m listening to sounds like Mr. Phelan wrote it just for me.
Phelan was/is a member of South, whose self-titled debuts was one of those albums that reestablishes my faith in music. It was certainly one of those “indie” records, but it transcended any of that genre’s “stereotypes” (high school poetry, repetitive song dynamics, demo-quality sound, etc.), touching on influences ranging from Slowdive to Steve Reich to Labradford. However, on Phelan’s solo album, he distances himself from the dreamy sounds of South. Well, not entirely.
Songs of Patrick Phelan still has a dreamy, faraway feel to it, but it’s more akin to being awake at 4:00 in the morning with a mild hangover and memories of a bitter breakup from the night before. There’s still enough hazy atmosphere to Songs of Patrick Phelan to ensure that part of it will float just outside of your hearing, playing with your mind and making you strive to hear it more clearly.
“Wintercup” focuses on a repeated guitar line that staggers around drunkenly while ghostly electronics look on from the background; in the final moments they coalesce into a giant organ that smothers the life out of the song. “That’s English For Steal” adds a jazzy, South American feel to it, like something you’d hear in a 1940s jazz club populated by ghosts of dead patrons.
The album’s loveliest track is the solemn “Ice Storm.” It sounds vaguely like the theme to a 70s drama about drug addicts and alcoholics struggling to start over. It’s a poignant thing, as Phelan tenderly sings “Dry your eyes my friend/How can I stop you from crying?” over a slowly building mix of sliding guitars and echoing vibes. Meanwhile, those ghostly electronics are back, content to remain distant and beautiful. “The Round Couple” closes the album on a triumphant note as Phelan sings to an unknown woman amidst solemn guitars and trembling atmospherics that reworks the first track’s final suffocating moments into something reassuring.
I get the same feeling listening to this as I did when I first heard Bedhead, though I’d hesitate to compare the two artists. I was alone in the office, taking care of some last minute details several hours after everyone else had left, and generally feeling a little lonely. Bedhead let me know I wasn’t alone. Somehow, through their music, they were there and they understood.
Songs of Patrick Phelan is the same way. It’s music for late nights, when it feels like you’re the only one up and no one else cares, when your eyes are burning and your body is screaming for sleep, when you feel alone and unloved. Patrick Phelan is there, and he understands. He wrote this album for you.