Powering into their work with heart and emotion comes as naturally as breathing for Indie band, Phao, whose second full-length album drops on Tuesday, June 19th. In fact, Playing With Fire captures some pretty raw emotion in its Anberlin-sounding rock. Centering primarily around broken and strained relationships, this Canadian band’s new album definitely delivers on their goal to create tangible and relatable songs to their audience. In a society gushing with severed ties and broken hearts, no doubt there will be no shortage of listeners who can nod their heads in some form to what Phao has to offer.
A press release on Phao’s website said this about Playing With Fire: “The record explores catharsis and the struggle to cleanse from the past and constantly set and reach higher goals.”
In this way, the record seems to have been therapeutic for lead singer Mike Gnandt, who says that it “got him through a lot.” And it is his hope that these songs will do the same for listeners.
Commencing the journey with Too Late, the album starts out with catchy electronic rock and dives into a song about a friendship broken by pain and betrayal. At first listen it appears to be a story of unforgiveness, but closer scrutiny of the words may reveal something a little deeper. Here we have the story of a person who’s trying desperately to get their life out of the gutter, when a “friend” pulls them back again. (Back into a life of sin, perhaps?) From this viewpoint, it’s not so hard to see why the chorus surmises “it’s too late to be friends,” since the betrayed person may not be refusing reconciliation out of hatred, but out of a desire to steer clear of the wrong crowd.
Playing With Fire, the title track, delves into the power of song and the fact that lyrics can be damaging if misused. In a sense, making music can be like “playing with fire” since it has such an influence on people’s lives. It’s up to the artist or band whether they use that power to make a difference or to plant damaging thoughts in a listener’s mind.
Know Your Name is about a girl who doesn’t want to get in a serious relationship with the singer (or main character) of the song and his angst following her “I’m not ready for a man in my life” declaration. The good points are: he explains that he isn’t trying to “find a hotel room” and doesn’t want a one-night-stand. The confusion enters in when he also declares that he has no ring to offer and isn’t trying to walk her down the aisle. He just wants to know her name. That is, to be her friend. If the song didn’t start out with him trying to kiss her on the lips, the chorus would be much more believable. As it is, the song shows us the guy’s double-sided turmoil, with the verses revealing his inner thoughts about wanting to have something deeper while the chorus is his reassurance to the girl that he doesn’t expect any more from her than her name.
The next song, Brought Me Back, is almost like a sequel to Know Your Name, with the guy still wondering how he can find the courage to start a relationship with the girl who makes his heart do somersaults in his chest. One verse preceding the chorus says, “… we’re so afraid to lose that we might never even start.” It’s a song about searching for the obstacles that are keeping two people apart and trying desperately to leap over those obstacles in order to discover the next level.
Drag You Down asks the question, “What are you gonna do with you life?” It offers a choice: let go of what’s holding you back and keeping you from moving forward in life or it could drag you down. This song has a strong “shout with me” anthem feel to it which drives the challenge home with umph and moxy.
Sporting probably my favorite phrase on this album, Live to Fight proclaims, “If we only live to fight, we’re gonna die someday.” In the world’s eyes, you may have every reason to fight, to hold a grudge, to bring your offender down for all they did to you. But in the end, if revenge and bitterness becomes your life, eventually it will backfire. If fighting is your only purpose, you can expect it to lead to death.
In Backbone, rather than being pegged as the victim in a failed relationship, the singer takes the offense, saying “show me what you got.” Basically, an “I can take it if you can dish it out” approach.
More of a pop/punk rock song than most of the others on the album, the carefree, slightly Hawk Nelson-esque Anything We Want explores the plight of a couple caught up with all the troubles of life and just wanting to take a break to get away from it all. It suggests that because “one life is all we got” we shouldn’t let its problems completely consume us. Which is so true … Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”
Probably the softest and most romantic song on the record, Worth It sounds like it would make a perfect addition to the soundtrack for The Vow. Though I doubt that this song is actually about a girl with amnesia, some of the words remind me of the undying love portrayed in that movie. Particularly parts like, “You’ve forgotten everything you ever knew about me and you,” and “why pretend when I’m hurting? ‘Cause baby you’re worth it. Baby you’re worth it to me.” In any case, it’s about a girl who’s worth waiting for even though she doesn’t feel as strongly about their “relationship” as the guy does.
For You is a song written for fans, revolving around the exhausting, yet rewarding lifestyle of a touring artist. It would be a great number to perform live as the song itself gives you the feeling of singing along at a concert. The fun thing about this song is that it puts the band on the same level as the fans. (“Tonight, we are one and the same…”) Ultimately, it’s about putting everything you have into what you’re passionate about. This song also makes a brief Scripture reference to Matthew 26:41 with the line, “I’m willing, but my flesh is feeling weak.”
Faking Love is about being in a relationship with someone who’s only in it for recreational dating, seeking entertainment rather than love.
Topping off the record is Something Cold, the title track of Phao’s April-released EP. With a similar “plot” to that of Too Late and Backbone, this song is probably the most bitter and might I say “coldest” song on the album, about a girl who gains a strange, sadistic enjoyment out of causing emotional suffering.
Phao’s style and sound do indeed show a great deal of promise for them in the pop/rock world. They have a palpable talent that, like the flaming bird on their album cover, may take flight and catch some of the world afire. In that case, it’s good that they understand the power they possess. The power of song. The power to make a difference or to lead astray. Just as their title track declares, they know that they’re playing with fire.