In their fourth full-length album, “The Phosphorescent Blues,” the Punch Brothers continue to modernize bluegrass music and show off their technical skill while still broadening their musical spectrum.
The group is known for their musical prowess, which has always been the forefront of the songs. The instrumental parts are bolstered by a lyrical concept about the artificial connections we have due to our smartphones and technological advances. “There’s nothing to say/That couldn’t just as well be sent/I’ve got an American share twenty-first century stress”.
The album opens with the ten-minute epic “Familiarity” made up of three movements. The song starts with frontman and renowned mandolinist, Chris Thile’s, frantic mandolin picking with spine-chilling arpeggios. As the other band members enter and exit the song, the quickly plucked mandolin is symbolic of the rush of the information age. The song as a whole is the album’s musical and intellectual centerpiece much like “Movement and Location” was in their 2012 album “Who’s Feeling Young Now?”
The album also included a salute to two classical composers Scriabin and Debussy, with the instrumentals “Passepied” (Debussy) and “Prèlude” (Scriabin). Both of which show the the technical prowess of the musicians while also dipping into classical period to mix genres.
That is not the only song that is not purely bluegrass. “I Blew It Off”, “My Oh My” and “Magnet” all have the pop type of sound heard on the radio. “I Blew It Off” was released before the rest of the album as a single and even included some electric guitar which is a first for the band. It also includes some harmonies which, like the electric guitar, successfully add to the music instead of overpowering the primary instruments.
One of the most interesting things about the album was the last song “Little Lights”. The band asked fans to send in recordings of themselves singing the last verse so they could use all the parts as the background harmony ending in this big group effort which dies into the soft playing of instruments to close the album out.
The Punch Brothers are touring this spring to promote “The Phosphorescent Blues.”