PREMIERE: Pheno gives Australia the art-pop injection it deserves on her debut EP Dragon Year

There’s something special embedded in the brand of art-pop that acts like Tune-Yards and St. Vincent create. Both of those artists and an extended list of others bring this unique, unusual and complex approach to pop music that allows listeners to see just how diverse, eccentric and ultimately great it can be.

With their manipulated guitars and fearless approach, they continually and consistently add a distinctive and singular twist to the genre. There are few artists who can successfully replicate this style of pop or even come close to making something in a similar vein. So, it’s always thrilling when you find one that manages to do it so effortlessly and well.

Bringing an exuberant, coherent yet varied approach to each of her infectious tracks, Jess Green has created an impressive body of work on her first release under the name Pheno. Her debut output Dragon Year is equal parts swagger and restraint. Each song bringing to mind a separate artist, Green plays off of her influences but sticks in her own laneway, creating an authentic and recognisable sound.

pheno jess green dragon year
Photo: David Burke

With moments of light and shade scattered throughout Dragon Year, Jess Green puts on show the diversity of Pheno’s multi-faceted and intriguing sound.

The six-track begins with the abrasive and strong There Are Voices Out There. With jarring guitars guiding it and an experimental vocal backbone to the song, it’s a sonically diverse and fascinating cut to kick the record off.

The sophomore track is reminiscent of Feist, the fiery and electronically-driven Shadow In The Water being an avant-garde pop masterpiece. With all components of the song working gracefully together, it picks up where the first track left off but still manages to explore a new world.

Dragon Year is abstract but still shows one integral thing which makes music great: the fact that ultimately, it has no limitations. You can dip your toes into an assortment of different styles and genres only to make something completely dissimilar and authentic to you. Despite the boxes that we sometimes place things in, there’s no need to fit in one and it’s the people that don’t who are the most remarkable and enthralling to watch.

Title track and single Dragon Year splashes the EP with sparkling guitar tones, its catchy melodies worming their way into your head with startling efficiency. The song is perfectly workshopped to be the obvious standout on the project, fitting so much of the EP’s allure into a single track.

Dragon Year steps into a wildly different field on A Little Thing. A bare instrumental leaves space for a poignant and slower-paced vocal delivery, allowing the lyrics shine through. Textured and distorted guitars stain the song, reminding you of PJ Harvey’s more sparse material.

The punchiest and most-accessible track Slingshot is saved for last. Balancing pure pop with experimental noise, it borrows aspects from some of Kimbra’s work and finishes off the quirky output with class.

Making attractive, bold pop out of left-field, peculiar sounds is not something that seems easy but Green has clearly created a body of work that makes it look like a piece of cake. Pheno has confidently filled the slight art-pop gap in Australia with this project and has warmly embraced this boundary-free side of music.

Reminding us that pop isn’t as simple as you think, she has left her influences evident but allowed much room to move and create within those artistic inspirations.


Pheno will launch Dragon Year on Sunday May 28 with a matinee performance at Leadbelly in Newtown. Find all the details on the Facebook event and grab your tickets here.