By the time of New Decade's release, Phew was finally receiving the worldwide acclaim for her innovative music that she'd deserved for years. After leaving the pioneering Japanese punk band Aunt Sally, she spent decades working with a who's who of other boundary-pushing artists from around the globe; with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jim O'Rourke, and members of Can, Boredoms, and the Raincoats, she merged rock, electronic, and avant-garde sounds on her own terms. When she returned to her solo career in the early 2010s, Phew created some of her most striking music, and New Decade is no exception. That this is her first release for Mute in nearly 30 years adds to the impression of a career culmination, but Phew doesn't rest on her laurels. New Decade is a resolutely unsentimental work that challenges conventional notions of how we perceive time (when the album was released, Phew commented, "I've stopped being able to see a future that extends from the present"). With vocals that range from whispers to wails and almost tangible electronics, noise, and guitar, the album's pieces frequently do sound unshackled from the temporal. Over a nightmarish churn of industrial noise, on "Days Nights" Phew intones different times of the day and year ("It's evening/It's winter") in an anguished voice that reveals them as meaningless constructs. She channels deep-seated awe and fear with particular brilliance on "Into the Stream": Each element that comes in and out of the piece -- the weathered grain of her voice, frantic electronic and wooden percussion, foreboding choral vocals -- is purposeful and surprising, bending the track in different directions before it reaches its claustrophobic peak. As with "Feedback Tuning," which builds from prickly minimalism to a climax that sounds like Phew is tearing the song to pieces, it makes for fascinatingly uncomfortable listening. Even when she focuses on the album's electronics, New Decade remains visceral. "Flashforward"'s hypnotic, vertiginous tones do sound like passing into another dimension, and on the deceptively named "Doing Nothing," mesmerizing layers of synths suggest a world that Phew has called into being. Haunting and gripping, New Decade is one of Mute's most striking releases in some time, and gives Phew a bigger platform to prove what her die-hard fans already know: she's at the peak of her powers.
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