Phil Stiles – The Anchorite

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: Epictronic Records
Released: 2020
Buy Album: https://philstiles.bandcamp.com/album/the-anchorite-ep
Band Website: http://philstilesofficial.com/

BAND LINE-UP:

Phil Stiles – Everything.

TRACKLISTING:

1. Intro
2. A Nation’s Trust
3. Antipathy
4. Critical Thinking
5. Bury Your Head

REVIEW:

How do you use music?

Now that is not in the sense of what device you listen to it on, or whether you use it on your commute, your evening downtime or your sessions at the gym making gainz, but rather more broadly. Do you use it as a form of escapism, or do you take a closer look at the themes that thread through it? Music can often be a reflection of self as well as society, so the latter can be a useful insight into the wider world. This is none more so than on PHIL STILES’ debut EP, ‘The Anchorite’.

Eschewing the more obvious and immediate rockier parts of his main project, ‘The Anchorite’ is an expansion of the electronic sound that weaves its way through FINAL COIL, and delves into slightly darker realms. With nods towards contemporaries such as MASSIVE ATTACK and GODFLESH, it is a cold, melancholic melding of electronic/ambient and industrial influences written amidst the backdrop of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and a reflection of the wider world’s current state. As subject matters go, there is plenty to work with and the overall impression one gets is of disappointment, despair and desolation. Let’s face it, it was never going to be an EP of sunshine, was it?

If you have read this far and are expecting a comfortable listen, then you best prepare yourself for something else as ‘The Anchorite’ is far from it. It’s not exactly “nails on a chalkboard with someone screaming bloody murder”, but you wouldn’t want to play this to the baby to send them off into a sweet and restful slumber for the night. “A Nation’s Trust” begins the EP in earnest with a simple beat and pulsing synth, atop which sits STILES’ robotic vocals that act as a haunting narration to the post-apocalyptic wasteland the track conjures in the mind. The twinkling piano melody the weaves throughout sounds sweet and inviting, but is negated somewhat by the rather grating, “machine-that-needs-more-oil” guitars that juxtapose it. “Goodnight sweetheart, see you in the morning!”

What follows varies a little, but the core elements are much the same: synths, simple beats, pockets of melody and guitars that either add further melody, or draw on industrial influences to sound like the literal motion of machinery working. “A Slide Into Depravity” follows the above and instantly dours the mood: it is slower, the melodies darker and STILES’ vocals, while barely more than a whisper, seem angrier and more bitter – if the title didn’t give away the opinion of the state of things, the lyrics most certainly will. If the first two tracks take their cues from electronic and ambient, then “Antipathy” is very much influenced by industrial, with crunching guitars, glitch-like harmonics and a more in-your-face vocal delivery. Though, behind all that, is yet another haunting melody line that could have been made the centre of the piece and it would have held its own.

Where ‘The Anchorite’ excels most is when it is purely electronic. Now, that is not to say that STILES’ guitar playing or vocals aren’t up to much (his role in FINAL COIL will see to that argument), but the electronic material carries a rather cinematic quality, particularly of the more modern, TRENT REZNOR and ATTICUS ROSS-vibe that absolutely shines. During the instrumental breaks, close your eyes and imagine the track being used in a film and you should find that they would fit in quite ably. The guitars do serve their purpose to a point, whether that be adding melody or additional rhythm (particularly notable towards the end of “Critical Thinking” when it threatens to break out into a full-on rock song), but perhaps they could have been dialled back a touch.

If someone were to ever make a film of the UK’s Brexit decision, or of the year 2020 (though we have enough disaster films, so please don’t), the film’s soundtrack wouldn’t be far away. ‘The Anchorite’ is everything it promises to be given the circumstances it was written in: introspective, critical and wickedly wintry. On occasion, some of the guitar playing can take centre stage and distract from the excellent electronics that bubble beneath it, but for a debut electronic album, the man has produced an enjoyably cinematic body of work. PHIL STILES may have a day job as a rock musician, but he could ably carve out a second income from a career in electronic music.

REVIEW BY LEE CARTER

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