by / February 13th, 2009 /

Review: The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage

 1/5 Rating

(Chemikal Underground)

The Phantom Band are apparently named because they couldn’t decide on a name. The group cycled through handles of such varying crappiness as Robert Redford, Son Of and Wooden Trees before settling on their current insubstantial moniker. And this chronic indecisiveness seems to extend to their music, too. They describe their chosen genre as -Proto-Robofolk’, which is not very useful.

Perhaps as a consequence of this, critics writing about the group have tended to become hopelessly embroiled in games of spot-the-influence. Krautrock, Scottish folk and the American southwest are, not unreasonably, among the most-cited presences in the band’s sound. But really the reviewer’s problem here is That Phantom Band tracks tend to sound like three totally different songs tied into a sack, and fighting to get out.

This is no bad thing. Album opener ‘The Howling’ marries a fuzzy bassline – rather like something from a high-end 1980s cop show – to a hooky vocal melody, falsetto backing and guitar breakdowns pleasingly reminiscent of Scottish forebears The Beta Band. ‘Crocodile’ is the only piece of music (the band are far from averse to the odd eight-minute instrumental) we can remember to actually feature that ridged wooden scraper thing usually restricted to the percussion box of school music rooms. And ‘The Island’ is a lovely guitar-and-vocal ballad, gradually overtaken by proggy – but still pleasant! – sampled meanderings.

There is the odd less successful track, too. But if the Phantom Band’s dogged eclecticism sometimes gets in the way of a good tune, maybe we shouldn’t hold that against them – it’s nice to hear a group that can write serious songs without taking themselves too seriously.

Listen: Spotify | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube

  • Jill

    Best album of 2009 without a doubt. I’m really hoping to see a Mercury nomination on this one. My album has a different cover though – how so? Is this YET another ‘phantomism’? – a word that I’m sure will become mainstream as a means of describing an act of deliberately misleading, switching identity and foxing ones audience to create hyperbolic elusive intrigue! Phantoms! – whatever you call it I’m entranced.

  • Yeah i’m really enjoying this also, it’s great stuff!