Germany is entering a golden age of the singer-songwriter, as acts like Clueso, Philipp Poisel, and Joris are drawing ever larger crowds, and a whole new crop of 20- and 30-somethings looks to these bleeding hearts to curate experience into art. Their songs will be remembered as the soundtrack to this revolution-less generation that was once intoxicated with freedom but now reels from the hangover of privilege.
Phela is the latest to arrive on this scene, one in which she need not break new ground. Instead, she can nestle in the security of a market. “I think I was really lucky that all those front runners went before me,” she said, unintimidated by the idea of not being the first. “Because of them, no one really asks me why I sing in German anymore.”
The young Wahl Berliner sings autobiographically about topics ranging from breakups and lonely nights in clubs to the comfort of nostalgia. She does so with lyrics boasting poetic structures and rhythms that make them almost detachable from the music. They play with pentameter, pacing, and onomatopoeia with such dexterity that they could possibly stand alone on a poetry slam stage.
That is not to say that the music is not remarkable. It is obvious Phela lives every chord and countermelody. The daughter of a musician, she started playing the violin when she was four years old, later going on to study jazz violin in Hannover. On stage, she is accompanied by Moritz Brümmer, a seasoned cellist who adds both gravitas and levity to the arrangements. Additionally, Fabian Stevens on drums, Philipp Martin on bass, and Roman Goly on the keys do a great job of giving her songs wings. Too often, singer-songwriters are given a record deal and are forced into an arranged marriage with a band, the result being songs that were clearly meant to be played by one melancholic person on a guitar but which instead feature disposable musical appendages. Not so with Phela. The band manages to achieve a cohesion so seamless that each arrangement is truly indivisible.
Phela’s voice itself is as soothing as a lullaby—one not sung by your mother, but rather a nanny you had a secret crush on. It has a breathiness and a purity that soften the blow of her cautionary words.
The arrangements often start with a melodic introduction that culminates in a legato chorus and bridge, sometimes punctuated by pizzicato interludes that remind us she knows her way around a violin.
The music could be well suited to montages in films—anything, from season finales in which heartthrobs need to make complicated decisions about their love interests, to pilots in which supernatural teens solve crime in unexpected ways, could all be scored with Phela’s sometimes opaque poetry and music. She specifically mentions on stage that she doesn’t like to explain her songs, preferring the borderlessness of her metaphors to spill over into all sorts of situations.
“Wie hoch kann man nur fliegen ohne sich zu verlieren—how high can one fly without losing oneself” Phela asks in one of her songs. The question could be turned back on her. She just released her first album in September, “Seite 24,” with notable success. She may have started on the fringe, but a Sony deal and a few concert dates alongside some impressive names mean that she is heading toward the mainstream fast. Will that change her life experience enough to negatively affect her music? “I’m really in touch with who I am,” she said confidently. “I don’t think I could lose myself that easily; I’m not afraid of one day not being myself anymore.”
Whether or not she can maintain her sense of self and her music into new albums remains to be seen. For now, she has delivered a very promising stage and a studio product, both of which suggest she may just be remembered as a dazzling shimmer in the German singer-songwriter golden age.