The Phantom Band are an intriguing proposition. On the one hand, they might be considered progressive enough to be considered as Scotland’s answer to The Mars Volta. Or they could be examined as a band blending rock and folk into their music in a style akin to Vancouver’s Black Mountain. So which is it to be?
Neither is fully the case, but that is because their album The Wants eludes stylistic capture. This is most definitely a good thing, provided you as the listener allow plenty of time for the album to work its way in to your consciousness. It takes a few listens, given the abundance of musical material, with several of the tracks quasi-symphonic in scope and ambition. Yet the effort pays off handsomely.
That they have the confidence to build their songs slowly but inexorably over the course of eight minutes says much for them, but they don’t forsake the need for a good riff along the way, nor a good yarn. When they do let rip the sound is thrilling, finally releasing the passions that clearly burn from within.
It helps to hear the full extent of Rick Anthony’s Glaswegian accent as he tells the tales, giving the music regional definition as well as lending real power to second track O, and its promise that “I’m gonna gather these books and burn them” – more ritual than pop song, it would seem.
Initially The Wants begins with the pose of a glam rocker – quite appropriately, as A Glamour sets its stall out. However it often stops short of letting itself go fully, creating tension instead with Anthony’s verses. Even Everybody Knows It’s True, sung quietly but powerfully told, creates an icy frisson with the words “she bared her teeth to the world, screamed her wildest words, and was gone.” Yikes.
Finally Goodnight Arrow gives up its soul with a fusillade of drums and rabble rousing, but even amid the percussive clamour it proves possible to pick out a majestic riff in the middle foreground. It’s these exquisite tensions and bringing together of different styles that makes this music unusual, intriguing and above all essential.
The message is, then, that The Phantom Band fully live up to their billing. Describing their music becomes a challenge in itself – but listening to it is a fully rewarding and eye opening experience. Judge for yourselves.