Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2010: Number 11

If Checkmate Savage, last year's collection of backwoods Stereolab motorik indie, was a finely awry way to start a career, The Wants is The Phantom Band's statement of intent. More precisely it's their Two Dancers, the album on which they don't really rein themselves in yet still find a way to open up and draw the unsuspecting listener into their own sound world. It's still driven by Krautrock, folk, strange anthemry, synths and effects pedals doing interesting things, ambience and film soundtracks, but there's a determination to overcome at its core as well as an appropriate loose theme of natural wastage and heading across the moors into the wilderness.

As if to show things are going to be different around here A Glamour starts the album with, alongside some electronic pulsing and wind effects, the sound of tentative sawing. It is, apparently, a balafon, the west African wooden percussion instrument, being tuned. From there it turns into a heavy bassline-driven stomp, a pagan choogle. From there every song seems set to wrongfoot the listener, not through sudden changes in style but through unsettlement. Night terror stalks the album, whether the gothic electro of O or the big chorus stalked by existentialism of Mr Natural. It's a sign of the Phantom Band's skill that even the anthems, otherwise chiefly Everybody Knows It's True, are laced with non-standard percussive effects and marching breakdowns, refusing to give up its tricks if it can help it and fading into the studio burble before going too far. Given time to work through its changes the eight minutes of The None Of One don't drag at all because it isn't allowed to settle, beginning as Americana fingerpicking undercut by creeping dread. Just as it reaches the point at which most would put their moment of revelation, a load of arpeggiating synths jump in and build to a dizzy collapse, Rick Anthony's baritone declaiming doom among the smouldering wreckage of reverb, glockenspiel and darting keyboards. Walls plugs some hesitant guitar into a stream of splashy cymbals, morse code synth bass and keys that dart all over the shop, getting faster out of desperation but never quite able to hang completely on to its time signature. Into The Corn ("everyone I knew there was dead") and the gradual build of Goodnight Arrow are an appropriately apolcalypse-defiant end to an album that is confident in its scope and layered ambition, something that grows over time as a piece.


Into The Corn (live)

The full list

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