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"The Phosphorescent Blues" Review

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Tuesday January 27, 2015

From The Paste Magazine

Punch Brothers: The Phosphorescent Blues Review
By: Ryan Reed

Over the past nine years, Punch Brothers have helped popularize “prog-grass”—a forward-thinking movement that utilizes traditional bluegrass instrumentation while weaving in elements of classical, alternative rock, jazz and even mainstream pop. Essentially, the quintet (Thile, violinist Gabe Witcher, banjoist Noam Pikelny, guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert) are modernizing the bluegrass format for the 21st century. The Phosphorescent Blues adds emotional resonance to that approach, underpinning the band’s tasteful virtuoso playing with a lyrical concept about artificial connection—namely, our culture’s addiction to smartphones.

Ten-minute epic “Familiarity” opens with Thile’s manic mandolin, conjuring the hectic rush of the information age with eerie arpeggios. Each player patiently enters the mix, adding subtle counterpoint and sonic shading, as the narrator watches a flood of human drones “explode out of (their) phones” into the night. Witcher and Kowert bow their strings in harmony, peering out of the darkness. Thile strikes his mandolin, approximating a snare march—before drummer Jay Bellerose adds an actual one. Choral, Brian Wilson-meets-Bobby McFerrin vocal harmonies appear and then vanish. The arrangement is busy as a Facebook mini-feed, as the voice searches for connection. But where? A night club? A church service? “God knows we need it,” Thile sings, over a heavenly crescendo. “God, help us feel it.”

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