September 28 2015
It's impossible to define the space from which our music is coming from," says singer Morgan Phalen of Favored Nations, from his adopted home in Stockholm, Sweden. "They are very immediate songs you could sing to, or dance to—they're almost useful songs, in a lot of ways. They're able to accompany... living."
The inability to "define the space," as Phalen puts it, is a large part of what makes the music from The Great Unknown sound both intimate and global simultaneously. James Curd also has an adopted home too, in Adelaide, Australia. Curd and Phalen first met in Los Angeles, bonding at the bar as they both gazed upon a stage watching a band whose name neither can remember. Curd only recalls that it appeared the keyboard player didn't miss a note, even when he left his station to pick up a guitar. The keyboard played itself. He recalls leaning over to Phalen and remarking, "What is happening to music?"
By the end of that evening, Phalen had recounted his journey from New York, where he fronted the band Diamond Nights, to Los Angeles, where in between he had collaborated with French electronic duo Justice, contributing vocals to their 2011 release, Audio, Video, Disco. Curd had found his way to the West Coast from years spent in the underground DJ circuit in and around Chicago.
How Sid fits into this transnational puzzle is a bit more of a mystery. After touring as the guitarist for Empire of the Sun, producing and writing for the likes of Kimbra and Usher, Sid met Curd in Australia, but headed even farther toward the coast than the already remote Adelaide where Curd relocated to be with his new wife.
Favored Nations is future music informed by history. The Great Unknown is a 17-track epic amalgam of sunlit pop as varied and vast as the Information Age in which it was built.It is music of a hue that brings to mind the entire spectrum of solar-powered, complex pop that emerged in the 1960s with the Beach Boys and has dappled the best and brightest music in every decade since. See also: Steely Dan, Alan Parsons, West Coast hip-hop, maybe even disco.
How do you even begin to connect the dots from a track like "The Magic Man"—which opens with a passage of symphonic strings that would happily fill an opera house to its rafters—with "Regular Pussy," a song that turns a brash, hip-hop inspired sexual brag into a tender love song, featuring falsetto and harmonies, all running along the glittering groundwork set by Curd's analog keyboard accents? "The Setup" is a recent chart hit after its inclusion to the soundtrack to the video game Grand Theft Auto V. "The Blame Game" builds out from the same architecture that makes "Always" so immediately engaging, yet this time does it with acoustic guitar flourishes.
By the time you've navigated the wonderful maze of The Great Unknown and reached album closer "22 West", you have come full circle, back into the sunlight. The handclaps and harmonies, the tidal pull of waves and sand—you are left with the sudden urge to dive right back in. Getting caught up in the infinite variations of rhythm and melody that Favored Nations have delivered directly to your shore, lapping like a wave at this land we all inhabit, it's not worth the effort of resistance. Just go with it.
THE GREAT UNKNOWN TRACKLISTING: