Evan Phillips is having a hell of a year. Fresh off Resolution Road, his beautiful collaboration record with Tim Easton and Leeroy Stagger (Easton Stagger Phillips), Phillips’ new solo album Silhouettes continues his streak of gorgeously smooth pop country songwriting. Silhouettes is, in many ways, a throwback record. It has all of the moody, sparse quiet of a Simon and Garfunkel record, but it’s got soaring pop hooks to boot. It’s rootsy, but elevated and ethereal, and its intimacy is almost enough to break your heart into piece.
Produced by Phillips himself, Silhouettes has a clear and focused identity. You can hear the control he has over his sound in every note, and no song feels out of place. His voice is also strong and clear, making his layered melodies really take off, particularly on the smooth “Falling Down”. The melody flows easily and sweetly, with just a hint of darkness. This one, like a handful of others on Silhouettes, is a true road song, centered around goodbyes and the distances between. And when it gets to the bridge and you get that unexpected “bah-bah-bah-bah” background harmony, it’s surprising and subtle in the best way. This song is Phillips’ gem, and he smartly opens with it.
The spare and stunning acoustic guitars on Silhouettes often take the spotlight, as in the purely instrumental “Afterschool Special”, a strange and mysterious track that seems to come out of nowhere. Yet, it fits, and it’s so majestic, somehow maintaining that road song vibe with its driving melody. It’s almost impossible not to feel like you’re staring out at a dark highway, hypnotized by the beams of the headlights.
“Silhouettes”, the title track is another tune shrouded in a kind of magic mysteriousness. The hushed, whispery vocals are set against twinkling guitar notes that sound like they’re shooting out delicate rays of light.
The second half of the record is so full of addictive pop hooks, from “Let Me Let You”, to “Lonely Mountain”, “Space Walker” and “Guess I Was Just Young”. Not one of these songs misses the mark. Elements of singer-songwriters like Josh Rouse, Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams show themselves, especially in “Space Walker” and “Lonely Mountain”, and “Lost in the Night”. The catchy choruses are undeniable and impossible to forget, like great pop songs ought to be. Phillips’ voice is wistful, smooth and sweet, turning it up when he needs to and containing it beautifully.
There’s an exciting energy to this record, as though it’s a vibrant release for Phillips. If Silhouettes is any indication, Phillips is bursting at the seams with picturesque rootsy tunes he is eager to share. And if they sound anything like these ones, we’ll be just as eager to listen.