Phoenix’s new album Ti Amo is unabashedly a love letter to summer. From the red heart etched onto a peeling blue sidewalk, to the so-obvious-it’s-sweet-again title, the French four-piece are back with a sweet romance built specifically to soundtrack every loved-up moment of summer 2017. Phoenix are decidedly a summer band, after all, French pop always sounds better in the sunshine, and on Ti Amo it feels like they’ve finally leaned into that. Perhaps there has been the idea, in the past, that summer music — and certainly pop music — didn’t have the same import as heavier, more serious stuff. Ti Amo refutes that with careful, casual ease.
The group’s breakout record Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix already proved that the best Phoenix songs are sun-dappled, full of the kind of meandering, crackling melodies that are best enjoyed on the edge of some big, blue, beautiful expanse, when there’s nothing else on the schedule but lounging. Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars has a voice that feels like cotton candy, saltwater taffy, and sunsets smeared into a sound, and when he’s singing in French the velvety magic of it pulls even stronger. Ti Amo will be a constant soundtrack all summer because it sounds like our very conception of summer, the imagery of sun and freedom, the inescapable romance that hangs in the air like jasmine, a day that turns into night without an end in sight.
Ti Amo is a return to form for the group, which isn’t to say that their last album 2013’s Bankrupt! was a failure by any means. In fact, stats-wise, it actually performed better than their breakout 2009 record Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which was also their first album released by indie powerhouse Glassnote. Wolfgang was the first record where the band seemed to understand their place as carefree music beholden to sunlight; “Lisztomania,” “1901,” and even deeper cuts like both factions of “Love Like A Sunset” (I’m a “Part II” girl, myself) hint at deeper issues, but allow the melody to stay glassy and simple. In contrast, Bankrupt! got bigger and harsher, technicolor instead of pastel, and did some work skewering cultural and societal expectations; it got too heavy.
So the French pop band were explicit in the rollout for Ti Amo — this album would be light and fun again. The band themselves compared the record to an Italian disco in the leadup to its release, doling songs out through informal live performances before eventually announcing the record with the buoyant lead single “J Boy,” and sharing the title track, a love letter and summer cruising music if I’ve ever heard it.
Along with mounting a massive summer tour, the band’s imagery for the record has relied heavily on the nostalgic European dance club aesthetic, something that will always feel foreign, fancy, and slightly untouchable for their American audience, and that surely evokes similar nostalgia for their European fanbase. In some ways, the concept of “the club” at all is also a summer space; the escape on weekends and other long, hot nights that promise something beyond a dance floor lays just behind the right set of double doors, that love itself might be lurking around the corner, sipping on a tequila-soda with extra lime.
“Tuttifrutti,” another callback in name alone, and the ode to gelato, “Fior Di Latte,” further dive into how sweet and deliciously meaningless this album is supposed to get; in a world full of political strife, violent terrorism, and painful racism and xenophobia, this record is meant to fulfill the same liminal demands of a dance floor, to provide an escape from the darkness of the outside world at least for a song, at least for a night. Ti Amo is a reminder that no matter how brutal things may be, there’s still quiet strength in insisting on our own playfulness. No winter is long enough to preclude the possibility of summer, and never has a record been more brimming with the hopeful potential of a bright, hot season than this one.
So while the album sounds good today, in early June on its release day, I’m willing to bet it will sound even more lovely in the thick heat of July, and almost perfect in the buzzy humidity of mid-August. “Goodbye Soleil” is a reference to soon-disappearing sun, and seems to sum up the peak of summer feeling, when I always begin to anticipate how I will feel in fall, missing the warmth and slowness of the season. Past the midpoint of summer, the looming knowledge that summer will, once again, fade, those final few weeks assume an even greater air of importance. I can pack an entire year’s worth of celebration within those final, truncated weeks of August, beaches and rollercoasters, barbecues and sea water — all of that feels present in this song.
But, if summer didn’t end, it wouldn’t be important at all. The very fleetingness of these weeks and months is what makes them matter. So it is with these Phoenix songs, they capture the feeling of endless freedom that only matters to us because they do end. Ti Amo is designed to be a sugary, over-the-top, finite listen. Within these songs is escape, and a reminder, that escape only functions correctly if you return to reality afterward, and let the sunlit memory strengthen your resolve to face the dark. In that way, even this lighthearted record is a decided political statement, and a fight toward survival in a world that can feel unflinchingly cruel all year round. This summer, commit to savoring the moments of love and light when they come. Stream Ti Amo below.