A bloody instrument in the aftermath of a live performance is an enduring symbol in music, indicative of both dedication and sacrifice. Such was the state of Nick Hill’s keyboard in the aftermath of a release show on March 25. The release in question was “While We Still Have the Morning,” the latest record from Louisville trio Phourist and the Photons, for which Hill is frontman.
When it comes to Phourist and the Photon’s sound, even they are not sure how to concisely label themselves; their Facebook page description reads “cinematic-piano-folk-melodic-ambient-prog” which is as varied and all-inclusive as it sounds. Hill began the project as Phourist (a play on his middle name Forrest), a one-man band several years ago. Soon after, he decided to expand. After a series of failed additions, drummer Scott Boice and bassist Stuart Wicke finally stuck, solidifying the band’s current incarnation.
“I came out of the womb playing piano,” Says Hill, whose influences range from the end credit music of Apollo 13 to Brian Eno’s seminal 1983 ambient work Apollo. Boice draws inspiration from drummers of several eras and genres such as Art Blakely, Neil Peart, and Brian Chippendale, while Wicke’s musical idols include Pink Floyd and Paul Simon. The band’s first album as a trio, In Infinite Indigo, was released in 2015, and tapped into each musician’s specialties, creating a fascinating, and enthralling exercise in musical synthesis.
While We Still Have the Morning takes on a different path from its predecessor, mellowing out its sound for more ethereal and spacey compositions rather than the frantic, jazz-esque sound that dominated In Infinite Indigo. While these elements still appear frequently, such as in the immensely catchy lead single “Sound the Alarm,” they are more subdued, refined, and nuanced.
The ambient music that has influenced the band in the past blooms on this record. A couple tracks are straight ambient, such as the opening track “Good Day Off” which begins as a warm piano amidst nature before glitching into eerie dissonance. Other tracks, like “Well This Fiction…” a folk ballad with essence of electronic distortion highlights the band’s ability to seamlessly mesh genres. Even the more simply composed tracks such as “Childlike,” a delicate number that highlights Hill’s abilities as a song writer, stand firm on their own.
While We Still Have the Morning tries a lot of things, and succeeds in practically all of them. The album is consistently equal parts lovely, eerie, ethereal, and catchy; always engaging, but never jarring. The final track, simply titled “12” features the sound crashing waves along an ocean shoreline, suggesting the future of Phourist and the Photons is that of unexplored and open territory. Whatever the future may hold for them, and even they are not sure, it will most certainly deserve your attention.