It’s real tough to find inspiration in central New Jersey. I can vouch – I spent the bulk of my youth in suburban Monmouth County and attest to the overall blandness of the place; the running joke was, aside from havens like Asbury Park or the obvious Shore “culture”-markers, most of the municipalities were a series of cookie-cutter homes buttressed by strip malls featuring pizza joints, dry cleaners and karate dojos. (“It’s like Ohio/ but even moreso,” the N.J.-bred singer-songwriter John Gorka once observed.)
In short, though artists like Hunchback, Black Wine and Dw. Dunphy have turned some of these tired suburban clichés and tropes on their heads, Central Jersey isn’t the ideal backdrop for young artists or musicians to cut their milk-teeth.
Now, just don’t tell that to Philip Marflak and Kayla DeRosa. The folk-infused dream-pop duo, who perform under the name Phavors, display a knack for furrowing out the beauty and inherent hopefulness of their surroundings, despite what the casual passerby might write off as mundane or even staid. On Feb. 26, they are releasing a single on streaming services in advance of a March-slated debut EP – and it is alarmingly good, engaging in a way that much of the dribble at fly-over country coffee-houses can’t begin to muster.
The song, which is titled “Petals,” is as organic as the floral arrays to which its title and lyrics aspire. Marflak, who wrote the song and spends most of the time carefully finger-picking an acoustic guitar, keeps his melodies straight-forward. But there’s an earworm quality to it all that you won’t realize fully until you’re humming the song a day or two later. Subtle synth washes and, later, a spare drumbeat flesh out the proceedings.
The real reason you’ll what to track down the single, though, is for DeRosa. Her voice is beatific to the point of inducing shivers, with a supple coo that sometimes hints at an underlying jazz smokiness. She’s surprisingly effective when she unfurls a verse – “So they say/ love can stain/ Like flowers stain an open field,” she sings, in the opening stanza. But, man, on moments where she just lets her voice loosen up around the edges – a simple but multi-measure intoning of the word “Oh,” flirting with falsetto, presages lines in the chorus like “I’d plant them again if I could” – it’s just goddamned breathtaking.
Both Marflak and DeRosa are young (a twee innocence pervades the material) but clearly trained in how to do this and do this well. But what this pair does they simply do better than their peers. (Thesis: if all musicians sounded this inspiring in high school, I wouldn’t have had such an itch to flee it.) In short, if Phavors was performing in Brooklyn, people instantly would be name-dropping the duo at bars and cafes. But, now, they’re on the way to becoming part of the fabric of Central Jersey, which, as I mentioned, comes with its own set of preconceptions and ceilings. Phavors doesn’t care. With “Petals,” the duo is on the path to knocking down the walls around them with a feather.