Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 14

The Phantom Band seemed to emerge from nowhere at the very start of the year, but their appearence seems in keeping with the current realm of Scottish plangent guitar botherers. While they may not have the same adherence to pedals and brutally honest seeming lyrics and delivery as many of their indirect peers, although the accents are just as strong, it's the sense of invention and moreover that of determination that keeps them afloat, even as they cycle through variations on genre themes. They harbour a dark heart that connects these dispatches from their eerie, richly textured eclectic combined minds. For all the ideas they throw at the wall first time out, they still come across as fully formed and completely in control.

And like the Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit etc. they have their own ideas about what nowadays consitutes a big alt-pop Moment, that is to say nowhere near the idea of what everyone else thinks but using many of the same hooks and tricks. The Howling kicks off with an undulating bassy keyboard groan before taking on big rock shapes dialled down to a lower level. The band it actually slightly resembles is Snow Patrol, albeit Snow Patrol caught between Jeepster cult and early major label stumblings, taking anthemic structures for a walk through the more off-beam reeds, with nods to the Super Furries to pick up tips on subverting big choruses, so much so that you barely notice it is one until after it's passed for the first time, before charging into a small-text gothic breakdown that lasts the whole final third. If Folk Song Oblivion is supposed to act as the album's big anthem with its slashing power chords and group chorus vocals it's only insomuch as a British Sea Power single is ever an anthem, working doggedly on its own path and motifs. "I can't see for the mountain silhouette" they chant for a coda, placing it in some mythical Highlands misty rockpool formation. Burial Sounds attempts to pull itself out of swampy, almost country-Kraut wave through force of tribal rhythm and choir of black angels alone; Halfhound proves they can do stuttering, stumbling menace around an elastic riff. The instrumental Crocodile begins with a whole heap of Can-like motorik beats twisted around the bass and sound effects until they almost become funky, develops gradually before exploding in a supernova of Stereolab drones and explosive drums not too far short of Holy Fuck. As usual, the ingredients may not be entirely original but with a little stirring and seasoning they've been made to resemble something entirely fresh, an all songs/styles in it together approach that mostly works best as an album, and as an album it works splendidly as a sinister mould-breaker.


The Howling

The full list

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