It’s customary for an artist on the promo trail to talk up (or big note) how progressive their new album is. But in the two years since Clockwork floored the hip-hop world, Phrase — aka Melbourne MC Harley Webster — has completely ripped up his past by the roots. Babylon, his third album, throws down the gauntlet to any musician feeling hemmed in by a scene and longing to paint a bigger picture.

Accustomed to dropping his rhymes over loops and breaks, this time around Harley did way with all samples and penned songs from scratch on guitar. He found himself leaning to the raw, desperate delivery of Australian garage rock and British mod, and so enlisted a producer, Tony Buchen, with a similar aesthetic, to take the demos to the next level. The result is a soulful, edgy album that’s screaming to be heard with full live band.

First single ‘Apart’ (available digitally today), sets the stage for Babylon.  A garage stomper with rockabilly guitar twists and a chorus sung by You Am I’s Davey Lane, the track laments a chaotic, hungover relationship.

Rest assured, Babylon retains Phrase’s trademark acerbic insights. While he’s drawn on some vintage genres when structuring the songs, on the verses he’s re-imagined the vocalist as rapper back in the day, emerging with a flawlessly blended sound that’s startlingly unique. Artfully designed to jack up your adrenalin, these tracks hum with tremolo guitar, Farfisa and Hammond lines. The choruses (so epic they must be carved into the side of a mountain somewhere) feature gutsy vocals from an unlikely crew of special guests including Jimmy BarnesSparkadia’s Alex Burnett and Guineafowl— and Harley singing, for the first time, himself.

While Harley’s spin on life can be derisive, his delivery aggressive, there’s always a chink of light shining through that signals the possibility of redemption. “To me,” Harley concludes, “‘Babylon’ means a place of beauty and getting to a better point in life. That’s what the record represents.”

Phrase’s new album Babylon is out August 12, 2011, through Marlin Records/Universal Music Australia.


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