Esoteric Antenna 2019
English guitarist unleashes aural luminosity to look through the haze of our times.
The talent for making most complex pieces feel effortless is but one of Anthony Phillips‘ multiple abilities, as is his penchant for puns, and this fabulously titled double album plays to the two of the artist’s strengths, while asserting the beauty of what he does in a myriad ways. If 2015’s “Field Day” – Ant’s first double longplay, devised as such, and a precursor to “Strings Of Light”- reflected the veteran’s sunlit delight, his current radiance has penumbral hues to it, although that’s not the reason why over a thousand hours of work and sonic experiments behind the couple dozens numbers on offer are largely unnoticeable. Their collective heft could be lifted by Phillips’ love of folk songs and classical music, yet it’s the variety of tunes and arrangements that will keep one’s ear riveted for hours.
From tentative plucking to vigorous strum – the record’s missing theme may easily embrace solar wind as well as feeble rays of the moon – the different moods on Phillips’ palette dazzle as paintings by old masters do, because this time Ant lets elegant playfulness loose on opener “Jour de fête” and allows elegy seep in without sapping the instrumental energy, even when the licks of “Winter Lights” freeze dynamics in quite a picturesque manner. It doesn’t take him more than several seconds to unfurl an echoing, welcoming panorama on the likes of “Diamond Meadows” or steer the sparse “Castle Ruins” towards ultimate poignancy, whereas the use of Strat on the delicately twanging “Mouse Trip” can steal the show even faster.
There’s a few under-a-minute cuts, including the marvelous “Tale Ender” whose whooshing is breathtaking, only the six minutes of “Grand Tour” feel intangible, too, and the piece’s beauty hardly has time to rub off – yet it does, insistently so – before the epic “Life Story” displays the spectral gamut of what Ant’s capable of as composer and performer, running through flamenco to chamber grace to Renaissance dance and beyond. Be it the haunting “Pilgrimage Of Grace” or the transparent gusts of “Skies Crying,” the guitar textures serve any motif perfectly, the delicate finger-slipping in “Fleur-De-Lys” stressing Phillips’ human touch. If “Andean Explorer” and “Shoreline” initially seem a little abstract and aloof, they are slowly but surely taking a looming shape of spectacular melody, and the electric strand of “Sunset Riverbank” pulls the listener into a quiet, albeit not serene, pondering about the long day that’s just passed.
That doesn’t mean that this record is strictly for the evening pastime: Anthony’s albums don’t belong to any particular period, and the surround version of “Strings” – stored on DVD – can shed a brighter light on the experience. Still, light changes depending on a chosen hour, so the return to it will guarantee a new angle each and every time… but guaranteeing that is nothing more than another of Phillips’ many talents.