Thursday, 21 October 2010

Review: The Phantom Band - The Wants

Scotland has, and continues to produce a lot of fine bands. There's something about the painful earnestness of a Glaswegian accent which sells itself so much better than, say, a Mumford & Sons, not least when it's put to bruising guitars. Yet as good as the current likes of Meursault and Twilight Sad can be, there's perhaps a tendency to play on that scottishness. Not so The Phantom Band; whilst there's no mistaking the locality of Rick Anthony's baritone, their music has its own distinct identity ("proto robo-folk" is their take on it) which makes their Glaswegian roots seem inconsequential. Their second album, The Wants, is an album that confirms the sextet as a strikingly original band, and one that is thrillingly hard to define.

If I was to draw a comparison with any band (and it's a pretty weak comparison admittedly) it would be Portland, Oregon trio Menomena. Both bands thrive on attention to detail, adding little nuances (a saxophone here, a xylophone there) which run through and characterise their songs. Both bands skilfully integrate electronic elements with more organic instrumentation, with the ability to arrange these myriad sounds into crisp, uncluttered songs.

After the brooding glam-stomp of opening track A Glamour, The Wants' first major surprise comes in the four-to-the-floor of O. Filled with falsetto vocals and gurgling synths, it nonetheless carries some serious weight behind it thanks to Damien Tonner's thumping beat. Throughout The Wants, the Phantom Band possess an innate ability to up the anté; three minutes into The None Of One's rootsy folk, the song clicks up several gears with a brisk shift in tempo and a sinuous synth-line; suddenly a song that initially appeared to be a long and patience-testing 8 minutes skips past you before you know it. That's followed by Mr Natural, the album's most propulsive track thanks to its surging rhythm, police-siren guitars and Anthony's authoritive, sure-footed vocals.

The detail within each of the 9 songs on The Wants is meticulous, and whilst in some bands hands the end result might have been sterile, but The Phantom Band never forsake atmosphere for craft. On the album's best track Into The Corn, the band deliver something akin to a bugged-out version of Bunnymen classic The Killing Moon, right down to that song's dark undercurrents as Anthony intones "Into the corn I fled / everyone I knew there was dead". The Wants is wanting of very little: an expertly executed and yet very human record, from a band only too happy to experiment, but far too accessible and consistent to be deemed experimental.


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