Regular viewers of Saturday Night Live could be forgiven for uttering a perplexed ''Pardonnez-moi?'' in April when the musical guests for actor Seth Rogen's high-profile hosting gig appeared. As devoted as their small Stateside fan base may be, French disco-rock outfit Phoenix seemed an anomaly in a season more attuned to Kanye, Beyoncé, and Coldplay or even ''mainstream'' indie acts like Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio. Give the show's talent booker some credit, though: Despite their lack of Top 40 currency, the Versailles-bred foursome actually possess one of the purest pop aesthetics on either side of the Atlantic.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, their fourth studio album, makes no attempts to curtail or complicate its sunny, synth-driven urges. Instead, frontman Thomas Mars perhaps best known to coastal hipsters and film fanatics as the companion of director Sofia Coppola croons urbanely over thumping percussion, airy disco flutters, and the occasional raucous guitar riff, his lightly accented English alternating between feathery falsetto and a clear, yearning warble. On the vivacious lead single, ''1901,'' he purrs, ''Counting all different ideas driftin' away/Past and present they don't matter.'' Lost in translation? A little, maybe, but the spirit is always, essentially, of being inside some ever-groovy moment. Though the album trips lightly from slinky roller-skate jams (''Fences'') to near Brit-rocky rave-ups (''Lasso''), the underlying vibe is both retro and somehow outside of time like a memory made sweeter than the real thing it recalls. A–
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