The variance from the more later focused sound starts with the opening track, "Beautiful the Freak", which opens Fiction & Other Realities in modern rock mode, taking a cue from Radiohead, complete with angst but also with Big Phony's acoustic guitar. This is probably the hardest Big Phony goes with a rock band on the album, and possibly the hardest he goes for the rest of his career and consequently, it's a bit of a misstep for a first track as it sets a tone that isn't quite followed on the rest of the album. Not that it's a bad composition in itself, even if it's a touch derivative.
It's really with the second track, "Holiday Bust", that Fiction & Other Realities begins to sound like the Big Phony we know today. It's a simple arrangement, primarily driven by Bobby and his acoustic guitar, but with some light splashes of additional accompaniment. Big Phony's sound, both in his vocals as well as his guitar style is reminiscent of Elliott Smith, especially in the quieter more singer-songwriter arrangements, but even "Holiday Bust" shows deviance from that sound as Big Phony breaks out the band in a shuffling rhythm for a quick, fully arranged bridge.
The Elliott Smith comparison is also apt on another deviation from Big Phony's regular sound on "The Last Days of the Season", which infuses Big Phony's sound with a mix of country rhythms and baroque pop arrangements. Part of this is in the production, which gives Bobby Choy's voice a bit of an echoey aesthetic, but also in the overall songwriting and arrangement. Big Phony isn't merely a Smith wannabe though as his lyrical themes are different, ranging from reflections on relationships to people to even vague meditations on his relationship with his beliefs and his arrangements range deeper into folk and country. This is most noticeable by the frequent use of country-styled shuffle rhythms and the frequent appearance of steel guitar (or at least an electric guitar played in that way).
At his best, Big Phony takes advantage of these distinctions like in his single, "Parade in My Head", or goes deeper into guts of his more folk style like on "Parable", which its reflections on his relationship with someone he looks up to dearly. And sometimes Big Phony even shows a hint of Beatles influence, like on his melodic choices for "The Girl by the Bridge (Silent Film)".
That song in particular has a wonderful electric guitar solo in its instrumental break, a warm contrast to Big Phony's slightly more depressed sound, resulting in a kind of easygoing and uncommon dynamic tone. And I think that while Big Phony does carry his influences on his sleeve here on Fiction & Other Realities and though he might step away a little from some of the sounds explored here, the album is actually still a really enjoyable listen. "Everything-Always" is also perhaps one of the best closing tracks for an album that I've heard as its spare sound is exactly the kind of tune that winds you down from the more emotional experience before it. And for all these things, I'd suggest that fans of singer-songwriter music in the vein of Elliott Smith or David Bazan might find a bit to appreciate in Big Phony's debut. 8/10
- Beautiful the Freak
- Holiday Bust
- Dying Unaware
- Parade in my Head
- The Last Day of the Season
- The Girl by the Bridge (Silent Film)