Song of the Week: Phoenix and Ezra Koenig Hearken Back to the Golden Age of Indie-Pop with “Tonight”

Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Phoenix and Ezra Koenig unleash a delightful collab.

Phoenix hearken back to the golden age of indie pop — an era they helped define in 2009 with their groundbreaking fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix — on their new song, “Tonight,” the second single from their upcoming album Alpha Zulu (out November 4th). “Tonight” not only features fellow indie icon Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, but some signature Phoenix moves; the rousing hi-hat and tom drum line from “Lasso” returns, the escalating synths of “1901” come back for an instant dopamine boost, and the song’s unshakeable confidence recalls the scrappy origins of their 2000 debut, United.

But beyond the nostalgia play, Phoenix sound like a different band than they were in 2009 — their impulses are refined, their musical phrases more unpredictable. Vocalist Thomas Mars and Ezra Koenig arrive at the final line of the chorus, “Now I talk to myself and it’s quite surprising,” in what feels like a bar too soon, until a brief instrumental pause gives way to a euphoric rendition of the song’s opening bass and guitar line. “Tonight” is also a great example of Phoenix never losing sight of the fact that they are A Guitar Band, and when the verses halt and allow Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai’s crystal-clear strumming to take the lead, it re-centers the track on a more organic, authentic sound, before exploding in an anthemic fashion.

Mars and Koenig’s lyrics oscillate between reflecting on mistakes of the past and earnestly pushing their regrets aside for the sake of having company — rather than solely leaning into the Obama-era ideas of “we only have tonight, so let’s party,” there’s a clear acknowledgment of how much has changed, how much they’ve grown up — how they’ve “played all the games/ And lost almost everything.”

This is what makes “Tonight” so infectious and one of Phoenix’s best entries since 2013’s Bankrupt!. The world is very different than it once was when Mars and Koenig were ascending to indie fame in the late 2000s — the future is more bleak and unstable, and the very position of their bands in the landscape of popular music represent a more optimistic era instead of music that speaks truth to the collective. Phoenix knows they can’t replicate the rush of a song like “1901,” so “Tonight” feels like their attempt to capture that lightning without forgetting the way they’ve changed over the last 15 years.

Back in 2013, Mars defiantly claimed on “Entertainment” that he’d “rather be alone,” but now, he arrives with a request more simple and earnest: “Could you come tonight?” With a song as undeniable as “Tonight,” it’s a great idea to say yes.

— Paolo Ragusa
Editorial Coordinator