Alpha Zulu

Alpha Zulu

Picture the most Phoenix place imaginable to record an album. Now make that place a little more Phoenix and you’re probably in the right ballpark. “As a teenager, I thought one day we’d be there,” Thomas Mars tells Apple Music’s Matt Wilkinson of the Louvre Palace in Paris—where his band’s seventh album would be born. “They wanted to have an artist residency for the first time, so they built a studio for us and we’d work from 10 am to 7 pm every day.” The band was able to keep “bank hours” in such an extraordinary location thanks to the extraordinary times in which the album was harvested. “This was the pandemic,” Mars says. “So we could enter the building by one entrance and choose which floor to work on. It was so enjoyable but also sad. We knew it wouldn’t last forever, but with the pandemic we stayed about two years. I roller skated on the perfect marble one day.” That freewheeling vibe is calcified across Alpha Zulu’s 10 songs—the majority written within 10 days of setting up at the Louvre. “We felt lucky,” guitarist/keyboardist Laurent Brancowitz says. “Thomas was stuck in the US for a long time, so when we were back together in between lockdowns, those little moments of work were really joyful. You can hear the joyfulness, I hope.” The band describes the album as possessing the same “weird Frankenstein” spirit as their debut LP, 2000’s United, and its vivacity is irresistible. The title track is a reminder that few bands conjure more fun from unshowy pop-rock ingredients; Ezra Koenig collab “Tonight” is the best kind of fan servicing; and “The Only One” and “Season 2” are the type of gorgeous, velvety mid-pacers Phoenix excels in. But, as ever, this isn’t just stylish, calorie-free indie. The French band has always managed to smuggle introspection and darkness into even their most melodic work, and here the influence of Philippe Zdar—the Cassius musician who produced multiple Phoenix records and died in 2019—casts an imposing shadow. The band’s 2020 single “Identical” is the album’s emotional centerpiece and a taut, disarming love letter to Zdar. “He didn’t hear any of this record,” Mars says. “‘Identical’ was recorded three days after his funeral. We got back into the studio and instead of talking to each other, we made music. He was just so instrumental and so charismatic that every song we would think with his language. We still do.” “Philippe and the Louvre,” Brancowitz says. “That’s a good combo. For sure.”

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