Big Bend is the songwriting vehicle of Ohio keyboardist Nathan Phillips, who unveiled the moniker four years ago with the release of instrumental electronic album, Hunched. Now, he returns with Radish, a collection of tracks culled from largely improvised recording sessions featuring a revolving door of musicians—including Clarice Jensen, Laraaji, and Susan Alcorn—that hugely expands on the machinery-meets-the-avant-garde minimalism of his debut.
A daring arranger, Phillips assembles various sonic trinkets into stunning, nonsensical concoctions. Take the programmed, muscular percussion slaps that power “Before,” juxtaposed with delicate, wailing Eastern-style guitar. Or Shahzad Ismaily’s offbeat kick drum on “Can’t Get Around,” which is matched with some pretty piano chords. Nothing in these arrangements feels like they should fit, and yet Radish is completely compelling. Phillips has a created a patchwork of dueling patterns that begs you to deconstruct each track, so you can examine each and every component.
The biggest divergence from Hunched is the addition of sung vocals. Phillips’s singing voice actually sounds a bit like Sting—that is, if the famed Police man had fallen into a totally different line of work. The gentle vocal of “1000 Ways” flows as an internal monologue interwoven with sanguine metaphors for feelings pulsing deep inside: “When I looked I knew I had to find / Where it hit my blood I had to know.” Other lyrics skew more simple and sobering; in “Floating,” he frames life as the act of “Floating in a cloud and getting old.” But even when Phillips’s words scan as the thoughts of a fallen angel, his radiant arrangements pierce through the gloaming, rather than perpetuate it. The cover of Radish depicts a blurry figure, sure—presumably Phillips, about to be consumed with darkness—but this is an album where light eventually triumphs over all.