If you’ve been eagerly waiting for the second The Phantom Band album, like me you may have been wondering how it will compare to their exceptional 2009 debut “Checkmate Savage”. That record was Album of the Year for Piccadilly Records and high in many other end of year charts (number four for me). Recording of the follow-up started earlier in 2010 so when I saw The Phantom Band play in May this year I was surprised not to hear a single new song in that set. This only piqued my interest and increased my anxiety about the new record.
So “The Wants” is here (out this week). And is it “Checkmate Savage 2”? Initial comparisons are favourable: both albums are nine songs long; both open with a song 6 minutes and 25 seconds long and have another song clocking in at over 8 minutes; and both records were recorded at Glasgow's Chem 19 studio. So far, so good. Most importantly: it sounds like The Phantom Band. But of course – what was I thinking – it isn’t CS2. It is its own record.
I cannot think of a better summation of the PB sound than keyboard player Andy Wake’s pronouncement: “The Phantom Band was built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground”. And the elements that made that burial ground sound ring out on “Checkmate Savage” are all present and correct on “The Wants”.
Less hard-edged and motorik than on its predecessor, “The Wants” continues the tradition of building up compelling and inventive rhythms with multiple, contrasting instruments and voices. And if the spirit of Captain Beefheart and Neu hovered in the wings on CS maybe here there’s a touch of funkmeister George Clinton or even new pretenders MGMT in the occasional softer rhythms and squelchy synth pulses? Again this being The Phantom Band these are only the faintest of traces – don’t go expecting “Maggot Brain”.
And all good burial rituals need their chants. Rick Anthony’s dark midnight incantations are still in place for ‘A Glamour’ or ‘Into The Corn’ but elsewhere his singing softens to include the cosy folk harmonies of acoustic ditty ‘Come Away In The Dark’ or the sweet, soulful strains over banjo and echoing piano of the intro to ‘The None of One’ (later on the songs sidesteps to another place altogether). And the dark forests of “Checkmate Savage” with their swamps, wolves, tooth and bone have become lighter woodland glade – birch, willow tree, stone and natural flame.
But the real power of The Phantom Band present on these two records is the act of alchemy. Take any elements of their music apart and it doesn’t make sense. Put them together and it’s a potent, magical brew. Their dark art is to make a sound that hints at many others but is so strongly their own that any form of comparison is left wanting. And on “The Wants”, they have pulled off a further trick: a record that sounds like their debut, and has all the components that made that such an extraordinary record, but is no mere carbon copy. Silly me for wanting CS2 when all along I wanted “The Wants”.
If you loved “Checkmate Savage” don’t delay in getting this (you probably already have it). If you’re new to the band, come join us at the burial ground.
Into The Corn - The Phantom Band by FollyOfYouth
The Phantom Band The Wants [BUY or BUY]
Following an appearance at CMJ Festival in New York and their first ever North American tour, The Phantom Band are back in the UK in November for just five dates:
17 Nov The Deaf Institute Manchester [BUY TICKETS]
18 Nov Queen of Hoxton London [BUY TICKETS]
19 Nov Brudenell Social Club Leeds [BUY TICKETS]
20 Nov Durham Live Durham [BUY TICKETS]
21 Nov Oran Mor Glasgow [BUY TICKETS]