After Joyce Manor guitarist Neil Berthier’s father passed away from dementia in 2020, Berthier answered the call of his friend and fellow musician Petey, packed his bags and moved from Boston to Los Angeles. These clouds of conflicting emotions At some point you stop, Berthier’s last album under the name PHONY (and third solo album following the disbandment of Donovan Wolfington, the band he once led). But in the grip of such grief, Berthier lets his complex emotions guide his most expansive set of songs to date.
A quiet sense of desperation defined Berthier’s first two records as PHONY, Songs you’ll never sing and knock yourself out. The sentiment lurks on the new album’s opening tracks “Christmas Eve Day” (featuring the vocals of Julia Steiner of the Ratboys) and “The Middle.” But as the dreamy guitars and synths in the background of “Christmas Eve Day” turn into the harsh, reverberating drum machines of “The Middle,” that shadowy desperation morphs into something much bigger and louder than Berthier – relying on the text of a letter he wrote while processing his grief – begs his late father to “just meet me in the middle”. The track trades the snarky, emo punk of his previous work for heavier, slowcore-inspired indie rock, a sound he had explored. knock yourself out but revisits with more reason in the wake of a tragedy.
Throughout the album, Berthier explores his own history and popular music in general. As it moves from icy, vaporous post-punk (“Animals”), resonant piano ballads (“Kaleidoscope,” which features Petey) and upbeat psychedelia a la Hüsker Dü (“Great White”), the Berthier’s passionate performances connect the dots. The album’s rambling production is both a compliment and a detriment to Berthier’s songwriting: while songs like the fast and blurry “Otherwise” benefit from a more hands-on approach, the chord progressions explosives from the “Winter’s Warm” outro don’t hit. just as hard as it should be in the context of such a cathartic record.
However At some point you stop is Berthier’s most adventurous work to date, his attempts to cover so much new territory means that its scale does not always match his ambitions. Still, there’s a tenacity throughout the new album that wasn’t as present on PHONY’s first two albums, especially knock yourself out. While this disc included long periods of dejection with sometimes a moment of urgency, At some point you stop returns this equation. Instead of letting the gravitational pull of grief and self-loathing drive him into isolation, as Berthier suggests in “Wedding & Funeral Family,” he seeks love in the comforts of community. This shift in perspective, matching the move across the country and the life-altering tragedy, makes his new album feel like the work of an artist finding his new form.