Spun: Joel R.L. Phelps & The Downer Trio

Different moods call for different types of music, but I believe there’s nothing as consistently enjoyable as a powerful mix of guitar, vocals and rhythm. The LP titled Gala, by Joel R.L. Phelps & The Downer Trio — which consists of Phelps, William Herzog and Robert J. Mercer — delivers this blend throughout its 11 tracks. Gala draws from modern indie rock’s typical sounds while also incorporating elements that give it a clear ’90s grunge-rock feel.

The album rolls in waves from one song to the next as it travels from rhythm-focused, guitar-heavy tracks to quieter ballads that focus on Phelps’s strong, melodic vocals and back to heavily rhythmic tracks again. Opening track “The Nashville Sound” is promising, with exciting guitar riffs that blend perfectly with the beat and intense vocals. “So You’ve Decided” is the first slower, quiet track. The vocals are the song’s focus and this works in its favour, creating a pensive atmosphere that resonates with the listener. Songs like title track “Gala” and “Goldentown” pick the pace back up. They create a powerful rock experience full of guitar and bass, with occasional hints of piano.

Unfortunately, the songs’ endings often seem uncertain and this is a weak point of the album as a whole. Final track “Thank You And Goodnight” alternates between segments of building guitar riffs and segments of pleasant vocals and while these two styles work well on their own, the alternation between them seems dissonant and weak for the album’s last song.
Gala is overall a highly enjoyable indie rock experience. While the album has its weak points, its stronger tracks are more than enough to carry it through. Joel R.L. Phelps & The Downer Trio show passion and talent in this LP and I would recommend the group to any fan of ’90s-style or modern rock.

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