The Phantom Band’s recorded output has spluttered out in fits and starts. Between 2002 and 2008 the Glasgow sextet performed and released material under a succession of jokey names (NRA, Les Crazy Boys, Robert Redford) before deciding on The Phantom Band moniker for 2009’s debut Checkmate Savage. Second album The Wants arrived just one year later, before a four-year hiatus was broken by 2014’s full-length, Strange Friend. Now, Fears Trending arrives barely half a year on from Strange Friend, and comprises seven tracks taken from its predecessor’s sessions.
Yet any suspicion that Fears Trending is merely a collection of cobbled-together off-cuts is dispelled immediately by the opener Tender Castle – a blustery, expansive electric folk number redolent of some epic physical quest: the climbing of a mountain, perhaps, or, more prosaically, an impending battle scene on Game Of Thrones. Singer Rick Anthony’s rich, expressive burr recalls the voice of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison; as a consequence, the track sounds not-displeasingly like Frightened Rabbit-gone-psych-folk.
Elsewhere, despite its facetious title, Denise Hopper seethes with menace. The Kingfisher, with its vamping organ, nocturnal ambience and – frankly – Stars In Their Eyes-worthy vocal performance, is the spitting image of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds circa Tender Prey (although it’s unlikely the Cave of that era would have tolerated the tempo change and bloated running time). Spectrelegs, with its frenetic riff, veers unnervingly close to metal before wrong-footing the listener with the album’s sweetest chorus, while Black Tape might well receive attention from horror movie soundtrackers at some point in the near future.
And yet Fears Trending’s most enjoyable moments arrive when the band eases up on the bombast and delivers something that’s marginally lighter on its feet. On the first listen or two, Local Zero sounds at best like a palate-cleanser and, at worst, like a minor track. But its bouncy keyboards offer some much needed levity, while the subtle tempo change that occurs at the two-thirds mark is quietly thrilling.
Fears Trending is the musical equivalent of a cross-country run on a cold, wet winter’s day: challenging, occasionally a bit of a trudge but, ultimately, rewarding.