Phoenix’s new album Ti Amo is unabashedly a love letter to summer. From the red heart etched onto a peeling blue sidewalk, to the so-obvious-it’s-sweet-again title, the French four-piece are back with a sweet romance built specifically to soundtrack every loved-up moment of summer 2017. Phoenix are decidedly a summer band, after all, French pop always sounds better in the sunshine, and on Ti Amo it feels like they’ve finally leaned into that. Perhaps there has been the idea, in the past, that summer music — and certainly pop music — didn’t have the same import as heavier, more serious stuff. Ti Amo refutes that with careful, casual ease.
The group’s breakout record Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix already proved that the best Phoenix songs are sun-dappled, full of the kind of meandering, crackling melodies that are best enjoyed on the edge of some big, blue, beautiful expanse, when there’s nothing else on the schedule but lounging. Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars has a voice that feels like cotton candy, saltwater taffy, and sunsets smeared into a sound, and when he’s singing in French the velvety magic of it pulls even stronger. Ti Amo will be a constant soundtrack all summer because it sounds like our very conception of summer, the imagery of sun and freedom, the inescapable romance that hangs in the air like jasmine, a day that turns into night without an end in sight.
Ti Amo is a return to form for the group, which isn’t to say that their last album 2013’s Bankrupt! was a failure by any means. In fact, stats-wise, it actually performed better than their breakout 2009 record Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which was also their first album released by indie powerhouse Glassnote. Wolfgang was the first record where the band seemed to understand their place as carefree music beholden to sunlight; “Lisztomania,” “1901,” and even deeper cuts like both factions of “Love Like A Sunset” (I’m a “Part II” girl, myself) hint at deeper issues, but allow the melody to stay glassy and simple. In contrast, Bankrupt! got bigger and harsher, technicolor instead of pastel, and did some work skewering cultural and societal expectations; it got too heavy.