Phrase
Clockwork


4.0
excellent

Review

by David James Young USER (181 Reviews)
April 26th, 2009 | 31 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Right place, right time- with solid follow-up, Phrase looks set to explode.

The shift in demographic of what sells in Australia’s music scene is baffling, to say the least. Ten years ago, were you an Australian hip-hop act, you would have not only been laughed at, but you would have been completely ignored. Who’d want to listen to that crap, right?
Right now, it’s a different story for hip-hop in our fair country entirely. The past few years have seen an explosion of acts achieving mainstream success: the Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N Eso, Downsyde, Drapht, Butterfingers, Pez and True Live...and that is only naming a few. All of these achieved radio airplay, chart success (the last Hoods album, The Hard Road, went straight to #1 and is the highest selling hip-hop album in Australian history) and high public opinion, often resulting in enviable spots atop the annual Triple J Hottest 100 poll.

And then…there’s Phrase.

Phrase might not seem much of a familiar name, and this can be attributed to him being in the right place at the wrong time. His debut record, 2006’s Talk With Force, had solid production and tracks that were more than capable of becoming club and festival anthems. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming popularity of the genre at the time, Talk With Force was lost in translation amidst a mass of other mammoth releases, and thus wasn’t nearly as successful as it had the potential to be. Phrase subsequently took the high road and broke away from hip-hop for awhile. When he came back, he had a killer concept and a master plan ready for his follow-up album. This has finally come to fruition in Clockwork- a cautionary tale of deceit, distance, monotony, faith, friendship and the human condition. So is Phrase in the right place AND the right time in 2009? As far as Australian hip-hop is concerned, you’re goddamn right he is.

First impressions are vital, even for a second album. Thankfully, Phrase kicks off this record with a string of confident, engaging tracks that don’t so much call for your attention as grab you the scruff of your hoodie and demand you listen to every word. “Burn It Down” marries synth-brass sirens and a driving bass-snare rhythm with commanding lyrical imagery and a soulfully sung chorus. The album’s title track follows, nailing a story of a solitary man with a bird’s eye view of his city, as the horror dawns that “Life is but a cycle”, and that every day is exactly the same as the one that preceded it. Bringing in a funky full band, “Spaceship” showcases how versatile and speedy Phrase can get as an MC as he keeps up with an upbeat rock shuffle with a variety of flows and pitches, culminating in the chant of “Let’s build a spaceship!” in the anthemic chorus.

As the record progresses, it becomes increasingly more evident just how introspective and personal these songs are to Phrase. Sure, one could easily fault him as a lyricist for lacking subtlety and metaphor in his addressing of the various issues in his songs. This, however, would be to miss the point of Clockwork entirely- this is straight from his mind, heart and soul and onto a page and into a microphone. There’s no middle man and no bullshit.
Perhaps the strongest examples of this are “Day You Went Away” and “Chains”. The former samples the Wendy Matthews track of the same name, as a story of a man caught in the middle of a long-distance relationship unfurls- naturally, a tell-all about Phrase’s relationship with R & B singer Jade MacRae. The sample is certainly unexpected, but the fitting nature of the lyrics (“There’s not a cloud in the sky/It’s as blue as your goodbye/I thought that it would rain/The day you went away”) tessellate impressively with the subject matter.

Meanwhile, “Chains” is a conversation with a close friend of Phrase’s, one Nathan Smith, who passed away unfortunately the year before. Rather than let the death drag him down, it has inspired Phrase to continue on with his career and give it his all- after all, he believes, that is what Nathan would have wanted him to do. Whilst Phrase’s lyrics are deeply personal and given forceful, emotion-driven delivery, it is the chorus from long-time Phrase collaborator Daniel Merriweather that is truly the song’s centrepiece, as he soulfully calls out “Break your chains, young man/And run away” atop a gorgeous acoustic guitar line and thunderous, echoing drums.

On the topic of collaborations, Phrase has assembled quite a team on Clockwork. Whilst MCs such as Bliss N Eso and Illy blend in considerably well, it’s the left-of-centre guest spots that really make their mark. Spiderbait drummer Kram nails a bluesy vocal hook on “Skylight”, whilst alternative-jazz-funk-electro-whatever-pop duo Jackson Jackson pay a visit on the outstanding “Paradise”. With rollicking flows, a snappy beat and Avalanches-flavoured instrumentation and scratches, this group effort seems destined for high radio rotation.

This is a very exciting release indeed. With a truckload of ambition, substance to match style and friends in high places, Clockwork could well be destined to be one of 2009’s Australian success stories. This is a record for anyone from any background of hip-hop- chances are you’ll find something on here worth your time.

www.myspace.com/bigphrase



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user ratings (13)
Chart.
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
Davey Boy STAFF (4)
This is what persistence looks like, a $hitload of passion with a dream that took time....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Vooligan
April 26th 2009


3541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

good review, David.
Only thing i've heard by Phrase is that song he did with Kenny, was called Face It i think. Was a pretty cool song.

AtavanHalen
April 26th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Why am I not surprised?

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 26th 2009


4950 Comments


Try condensing the background a bit... I know no-one knows who he is, but 2 paras of background info is unnecessary. I like where you went with your first para of content, but you quickly fell into a modified track-by-track after that... just a bit too much info about a couple songs that honestly sound really cheesy from your description

Para 4 and 5 need a space. 2nd to last para, what is a rollicking flow? Also, you start using "whilst" a bit too much in the last few sections.

Good to hear about some Australian hiphop -- it's been hard to appreciate anything non-American for me, but I'll check it out.

Vooligan
April 26th 2009


3541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

you dont have to be David. But seriously, im probs gunna get this after hearing the stream on myspace, very cool album and this is coming from someone who doesnt listen to much of it at all.

taylormemer
April 26th 2009


4917 Comments


I find I can't get into most Australian hip-hop. A lot of it is pretty awful.

Vooligan
April 26th 2009


3541 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Generally my opinion too, but this is really good. Clockwork is a great song.

AtavanHalen
April 26th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Try condensing the background a bit... I know no-one knows who he is, but 2 paras of background info is unnecessary.


I really didn't think I spent that much time on him personally. It wasn't just him I was talking about, but the whole Australian hip-hop scene (which goes really unnoticed internationally, I've felt.

I like where you went with your first para of content, but you quickly fell into a modified track-by-track after that... just a bit too much info about a couple songs that honestly sound really cheesy from your description


I briefly spoke about the first three tracks and then discussed my highlights from there. That's a track by track?

2nd to last para, what is a rollicking flow?

It's not your standard rapping over 4/4; there's a lot of syncopation and rhythmic changes.

I don't mean to sound butthurt, but if you're going to come in and rip shit on what I've written, I at least deserve a right of reply.


taylormemer
April 26th 2009


4917 Comments


I don't really think he was ripping into you that hardly.

scyther
April 26th 2009


1606 Comments


Soby only rips hard.

You did use "whilst" way too much, you gave my Ctrl + F an orgasm. This Message Edited On 04.26.09

taylormemer
April 26th 2009


4917 Comments


Three times isn't the worst I've seen.

kingsoby1
Emeritus
April 26th 2009


4950 Comments


not taking constructive criticism won't get you contrib status faster. i only noted observations, especially since i write hip-hop reviews primarily and it seems that you really want to contribute to this site.

i know you might not think you did the things i noted... but you did. that's the concept of taking what other people say into account to improve your writing. please note that i commented on a little bit of a "modified" track-by-track. talking about songs is fine, it's just that you do so one paragraph after another.

i also covered all the points your raised with your intro/ background paragraphs. i understand that the australian scene is unknown, but you could still condense that info, as it gets a little boring.

and it's obviously not easily inferred that a "rollicking flow" entails syncopation and non standard techniques. if they're there, then say it, tbh.

AtavanHalen
April 26th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Who said I haven't taken your criticism constructively?
Like I said, I didn't mean to sound butthurt at all.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review.

sgrevs
April 26th 2009


698 Comments


I enjoyed the review, good to see more Aussie hip-hop reviewed on here, even though I'm not such a big fan. I've heard 'Spaceship' and 'Surrender' on the radio lately and I was pretty impressed with both of them, so maybe this album will change my mind.

AtavanHalen
April 28th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Phrase himself just messaged me on MySpace to thank me for the review; so I'm pretty chuffed about that.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
April 28th 2009


20857 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

As most will know by now, I prefer reviews to be a little longer and while this one could be condensed by a paragraph or 2, I really like it. I'm viewing it from the perspective of someone who is umm'ing & ahh'ing on whether to purchase this album or not and the extra details concerning individual songs is appreciated in that kind of scenario.

I've only heard Spaceship which is great (the Office Space-inspired video helps) and I'm really looking forward to laying my ears on this album. Great work DavID. Pos.

PS: There is one grammar error. A missing word; "... don’t so much call for your attention as grab you the scruff of your hoodie."

Waior
April 30th 2009


11451 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is almost as fantastic as the review written for it.

AtavanHalen
April 30th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Jenna, glad you dig it

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
April 30th 2009


20857 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Grammar error, I tells ya.

AtavanHalen
April 30th 2009


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Word is supposed to be "doesn't" instead of "don't"This Message Edited On 04.30.09

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
April 30th 2009


20857 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

WTF R U talking about? See my previous comment.



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