Phillips is a brooding romantic. His songs work best in those melancholy moods when his rich, breathy vocals and rumbling, mildly orchestrated arrangements can wrap around you like a warm blanket and keep the world's cruel intentions effectively at bay. What saves this collection from over-indulgent pensiveness is Phillips' exquisite songwriting and his lush vocal quality, which is as unique, instantly identifiable and comforting as that of a confidante, sibling or lover.
Mobilize is his first solo outing since disbanding his '90s group, Grant Lee Buffalo. Phillips plays all the instruments here, relying on modern studio technology and electronic percussion to carry the album's dozen tracks. It's a slow burn from beginning to end, never really climbing out of the mid-tempo groove that seems to be Phillips' comfort zone.
In the second song, "Humankind," Phillips bemoans the current state of society, pulling off the couplet "If only humankind was not so heartless now/ Heartless now/ It's hard to love your fellow man" without coming off sounding like a hippie, a cleric or a wimp. "Sadness Soot" rocks about as hard as anything on the album, embracing solitude and the sense of release following a breakup. "Like a Lover," a haunting dirge about an unshakable love, has minimal instrumentation, just Phillips on beat-up acoustic guitar and muddy click track.
Mobilize shouldn't make much more of a commercial splash in the great big world than Phillips' earlier work did. And that's more than all right with me.