Artist: Phil Lewis
Album: Patchwork Heart
Label: LPW Records
Sounds Like: Donovan, Culture Club, Arctic Monkeys
Best Songs: Fantasy Reality
Strengths: Creative songwriter, Unique overall sound
Weaknesses: Mediocre vocals, Effects are hit and miss
Phil Lewis is an experienced singer-songwriter from Cardiff, Wales that has a relatively extensive discography going back to the mid-nineties. His musical interests have ranged greatly over the course of his career, from rap to rock. The self-identified “pop-maverick” states that despite his unconventional approaches to songwriting, the Top-40 radio hits of his childhood and youth are where he draws much of his influence. Lewis’ music has been getting a fair amount of attention, as he has placed in the semi-finals of the UK’s prestigious songwriting contest held by BRIT Trust twice, and it will be announced in November whether his new song “Up On The Shelf” will advance to the finals of the competition. This album, titled “Patchwork Heart” is due out November 6th, and will be the fifth record the solo singer-songwriter has released to the public.
The name of the album is very fitting, as this collection of nine tracks truly is a “patchwork” of eclectic sounds, moods, and musical themes. Some listeners may hear a change in influence with every song, and it is difficult to pin down exactly where Lewis’ ideas are headed; the overall direction of the compositions is very unique. In short, Lewis is able to keep things interesting throughout most of the record, and deliver tracks that are both creative, yet still usually have some kind of pop-hook that listeners can hang on to. The phrase, “experimental pop/rock” may be a little excessive, but is a decent descriptor until a person actually hears the material on “Patchwork Heart” themselves. While there is no obvious comparison to other artists with Phil Lewis, his generous usage of effects along with his simplistic yet airy songwriting tendencies suggests some kind of combination of 80’s synth-pop from Culture Club with the laid back, pensive, and lighter sounds of Donovan. However, “Patchwork Heart” isn’t without its rock influences as well; a presence of driving power pop instrumentation is similar to something one may hear from the Arctic Monkeys, Phil Lewis’ voice even sounds a little bit like Alex Turner’s. Basically, there’s some distorted electric guitar, some piano, and a host of interesting synths, string sections, and sound effects throughout this record. “Fantasy Reality” is a track that really shows Lewis’ songwriting ability and potential. The track is very narrative and fairy tail like, which is how Lewis described it himself. The instrumentation on the tune is kept intelligently sparing, and the overall mood of the piece sounds like something from a Donovan record.
Lewis is not the best singer. At first it may seem to listeners that he has a bit of an accent that is difficult to describe. South Pacific? Slavic? However, he is a Welsh native, so it appears that is just the timbre of his vocals. For the most part the vocal performance isn’t terrible, but the singing is definitely not a highlight of this album, as there are times when Lewis’ voice sounds pretty whiny. Apart from the vocals, not all of the effects used in the album are aurally pleasing. The effects in the intro before the opening track were unnecessary and the barrage of sound effects during the interlude of the last track was a little distracting and disorientating. There is a lot of electronic manipulation and augmentation in “Patchwork Heart”, and most of time Phil Lewis does it in a way that sounds great and adds to the song, but this album does have incidents where it seems Lewis went a little overboard. These songs are high-quality, the experience Lewis has as a songwriter stands out. Sometimes the simpler and less “stuff” the better.
Overall, “Patchwork Heart” is one of the most unique and original sounding albums listeners have probably heard in a while. Lewis’ talent is that he understands how to make songs that are creative, genuine, and unconventional, yet still catchy and accessible. As was stated before, “experimental-pop/rock” may be a bit excessive of a categorization, but the album is definitely an experience. “Patchwork Heart” is something different, fun, and musically interesting.