Monday, 26 January 2015

Album Review - The Phantom Band - Fears Trending

At first glance, you may be forgiven for thinking that Fears Trending,  the latest offering from The Phantom Band, is a collection of outtakes picked from the cutting room floor; rejects from the acclaimed 2014 album Strange Friend,  thrown together in a shameless attempt to separate those of you so inclined, from your hard earned cash.  And in one aspect you would be correct.  A package of songs, some of which didn’t make the 2014 album - for various reasons, if you listen to what the band have to say - but nonetheless, this is an album in itself, in the true meaning of the word, with an identity all of its own.

Much like The Fall, with The Phantom Band you never quite know what you will get, and that which you expect is least likely to be delivered.  And that is what makes them so utterly compelling.  The contrast between this and Strange Friend  is best reflected in Rick Antony’s assertion that this is their 'dark side'.  And they do dark so, so well.  

From Checkmate Savage  in 2009 to The Wants  2010, then the seemingly endless wait for last years Strange Friend,  whilst solo projects filled the space for some in the band, their fondness for keeping us in suspense and delivering the unexpected, has now become a trademark for Scotland’s most eclectic and creative ensemble.

This release on Chemikal Underground heralds yet another foray into the unknown for the band, and all the time relying always on the familiar.  A sign of a fermenting and unique creativity.  Seven tracks are offered as an album, short on numbers possibly but brimming with depth and variety.

Tender Castle  is a fine opener and an comfortable transition for those familiar with the populist dalliances of Strange Friend.  Punctuated para-diddle drum patterns lay the foundations for sci-fi score keyboards.  A song which builds, breaks and distorts beautifully as you would expect from the Phantoms, and all the time the constant rhythmic tempo punctuated by those familiar crying vocals.  And always a darkness hiding in undergrowth – “And I’ll be watching as you speak”.

Local Zero  displays more conventional in its layout and structure than we have come to expect from them, and a gentler more apologetic vocal, the offbeat musical hook is interrupted only at times to deviate to pure melody followed by Tardis synth and oscillating bass.  Build, repeat and return to the start and go “from the left to the right and back again”

With a horseback headstrong drum rhythm, Denise Hopper  takes us to The Band’s vision of a spaghetti western set in a post-apocalyptic Dali-esque desert, where dancer tango in the searing heat of a flailing, barely audible haunting melody.  One of the strongest tracks on the album, it doesn’t bear thinking that this is a song which 'didn’t make it' onto the previous offering due any lack of quality.  This is The Phantom Band at their uncompromising best.  Oh yes.

On next track, Black Tape,  the somnambulists among you will welcome the dreamlike landscape.  So too the Poe aficionados, with the gothic horror gargoyles pulling the strings backstage to the beat of the military 'onwards' drum rhythm.  Those same gargoyles providing the offstage cries, accompanying the punctuated story.  Suitably soaked in suspense your attention doesn’t falter, but don’t look behind you

Spectrelegs  requires listeners to be ready for the weight of the metal onslaught riff pounding your chest after the beauty of the soft gentle keys lull the security from you.  It drives so hard you may have to curl your toes and grip your seat to gain purchase.  Again, the structure of build/fade/dark/light is utterly mesmerising.

Penultimate track The Kingfisher,  for me, is the masterpiece of the album.  A fine compliment indeed.  I was fortunate enough to see the live rendition of this recently at the Arches gig in Glasgow, such a powerful track which oozes Nick Cave at his Stagger Lee best.  The pounding rhythm from bass/drums/keyboards, lays a foundation which entraps and ensures that YOU WILL NOT TAKE YOURSELF AWAY FROM THIS.  And you cannot.  Even the beauty of the organ frequency, strains to take you to a kinder place but you’re hypnotised, you are with the vocals to the end.  And in the end, Quint breaks through the fade out and reminds us of the horror of the deep with his tale of those ladies of Spain.

And to end, and as gesture of kindness, we are wakened softly from the darkness with the most melodic and fitting end to this album in the form of Olden Golden.  A vista is opened to us, as the cinema curtains extend to show the feature.  A big sky, a rolling landscape of a song and familiar territory for The Phantom Band as they escort us back home, from a journey to the dark side and back.

- Bobby Motherwell

The Phantom Band - Fears Trending  is out now via Chemikal Underground and can be purchased here.

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