I have a cynical (or completely justified) habit of being generally underwhelmed by indie rock buzz bands, especially when the buzz comes from the hyperbole-farting British music mags. “This album by The Fabby Snot Whistles is the most important record since the Ten Commandments!” “This just in: The Fabby Snot Whistles are shite!” My apologies to The Fabby Snot Whistles if they actually exist.
The buzz that Jezy Gray farts, on the other hand, is a buzz you can bottle and sell, so I’m hoping you all took his advice and checked out The Phantom Band’s debut, Checkmate Savage. If you don’t like or trust Jezy, take heed of my nudge. I haven’t been this excited by a debut album in a very long time.
The Phantom Band transmit their signals from Glasgow, home of Mogwai and The Delgados, and the latter’s Paul Savage was at the production helm of Checkmate Savage. I’ve spent the past few days attempting to describe the amalgamation of sound on this album to friends, but everything seems to fall short of the actual experience. There is certainly the freewheeling fun and experimentation that made The Beta Band so exciting. There are times it seems as if the Super Furry Animals are playing a set of krautrock covers. Even these connections, however, are proven tenuous and fleeting when engaged with the actual sounds pumping out the speakers. “When you have been playing together for a good while you’d be amazed at the breadth of music you come up with. We ended up playing stuff that was folk, pop, techno with guitars, classic rock, metal, noise terrorism, gospel, soundscapes and parodied every band that we hated as well – it was great fun,” says bassist Gerry of their prolonged recording sessions. Any band combining noise terrorism and gospel is alright in my book.
I can think of few bands nimble enough to weave the eternal melody of “Left Hand Wave” through such epic and ever-morphing sonic thrust. This is not the territory of a newborn. Then they follow this up with, “Island”, which is either the best Bonnie “Prince” Billy song he didn’t write or a Presbyterian hymn. It is, to fart some Brit rag hyperbole, the most beautiful tune I’ve heard in months.
It appears that, after a period of willful obscurity and bate-switching (the band made a habit of changing the project’s name before each gig and playing with bags over their heads), The Phantom Band are on the verge of finding a very large audience. I’m talking TV on the Radio levels. If there is any justice in the world, that is. No bags necessary.
In barely a month’s time, 2009 has birthed two of the most dynamic and ensnaring albums in years: Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and, this. What makes Checkmate all the more impressive is that it sounds every bit as assured as most artist’s fourth or fifth release. Or like something that could already be featured in Silence in Architecture’s Favorites section, next to “Souvlaki” and “Heaven Up Here”. Maybe hyperbole doesn’t exist when the music is this good.
The album is available now on Chemikal Underground.