Review Summary: Accessible crossover prog with beautiful melodies, retro influences and impeccable musicianship.
Phideaux Xavier has been quite prolific throughout the last decade, releasing album after album, collaborating with various musicians and exploring a number of different styles from folk to psychedelic to progressive. 'Doomsday Afternoon' was his sixth studio release and was the second part of a trilogy of albums dealing with issues such as the nanny state and ecological crises. When this was released it was about as far down the path towards progressive rock that Phideaux had yet ventured.
First off it is worth mentioning that the music on here isn't particularly demanding. Phideaux's sensibilities veer more towards the accessible end of the prog spectrum. That isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case however as he has a finely developed ear for melody and the development of the appropriate mood and texture with each composition. There are influences on here that range from Pink Floyd to Mike Oldfield and even a smattering of Yes in some of the keyboard arrangements. The aforementioned influences are particularly noticeable on the first two tracks with 'The Doctrine Of Eternal Ice (Part One)' recalling the early days of Pink Floyd with the occasional flurry of orchestral intrusions a la 'Atom Heart Mother'. Phideaux is certainly wearing his influences on his sleeve here. There is some beautiful orchestration on this album. 'A Wasteland of Memories' features an uplifting melody that wouldn't sound out of place in a Josef Haydn symphony and 'Crumble' lulls you with its soothing piano melody and Clannad-esque backing vocals. But the real meat of the music lies in the longer compositions. 'Formaldehyde' is a prog folk number with a beautiful female vocal and some pleasing interplay between guitar, synth and flute. The 14-minute 'Microdeath Softstar' introduces itself with a subdued organ melody before the softly overdriven guitars, synths and orchestra drill out a memorable theme and the psych tinged overtones of the main verse take over backed by the sound of fiddles and the Gibson Junior P-90 tones of a vintage Mike Oldfield on lead guitar. The track may be a pot-pourri of different styles and influences but the sheer inventiveness on offer is compelling. Phideaux's music has sometimes been criticised as 'prog-by-numbers' but when there are such captivating melodies and pleasing arrangements it's easy to be drawn in, forget the influences that are quite noticeable throughout most of the music and just let it flow over you.
As I mentioned earlier there isn't anything particularly challenging about the music on here if you are a prog rock enthusiast. However, if you just want to sit back and enjoy some beautiful prog tinged melodies backed by some wonderfully arranged orchestration there is a lot to love about this album. If you like early Mike Oldfield, Yes or Pink Floyd you could do a lot worse than give this a listen.