Monday, 1 November 2010

The Phantom Band - The Wants (Chemikal Underground)

Biffy Clyro were my first true love. Since the first time I heard 57, I invested all my naïve musical idealism in the trio's musical unorthodoxy and lyrical opacity, and would meet any fellow fan's mention of their name with all the hostility of a novice fourteen-year-old who believes their favourite band exists for their ears only. Needless to say, my heart was unceremoniously broken when the band signed to a major label and disowned all their material from before 2007. So it's good to see that fellow Scots The Phantom Band are standing by that belligerently unconventional approach to music making that made Biffy Clyro so exciting all those years ago.

Much like a younger Simon Neil and co, The Phantom Band are prone to stylistic acrobatics, swooping seamlessly between genres and time signatures with impressive agility. However, The Wants is an album that boasts greater range, proficiency and imagination than anything in the former's back catalogue. Take songs like The None Of One or album closer Goodnight Arrow, which starts off like a creepy B-movie soundtrack and ends up sounding a bit like O Fortuna – not before detouring via some psychedelic synth and bass grooves – all without you even really realising it. That's where the brilliance of The Wants lies: to analyse its configuration, it sounds bizarre - even contrived - but the execution is so effortless that the resultant songs are genuinely absorbing and accessible. This temperamental tendency isn't a gimmick: there are enough songs on The Wants that are more straightforward, but no less interesting, (such as the folky ballad Come Away In The Dark and the eerie, electronic O) to satisfy the cynics.

The Wants seems like a natural progression from the band's debut, Checkmate Savage. All the wild ambition of that first album has here been explored, while Rick Anthony's versatile singing voice sounds more professional and controlled, and the other band members, drawing from a wider array of instruments, create music that sounds more refined; more polished. If I had to pick a fault, I would say that this is the only element that ever really works against them. At times The Wants sounds a little too slick, with Anthony's Americanised drawl inclining towards insincerity. Maybe that's a personal bias, though, predisposed as I am towards the Scottish accent. Regardless, The Wants has reassured me that Scotland has plenty more underground musical talent waiting to be discovered.

Words : Tegan Rogers

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