Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: Chemikal Underground
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For much of their earlier career, Glasgow sextet the Phantom Band presented themselves with an attitude of irreverent charlatanry, releasing various D.I.Y. cassettes under band names like Robert Redford, NRA, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Their shadowy presence and refusal to take themselves or the music industry very seriously only added to their mystique, and by the time they settled on their final (and appropriately self-referential) moniker in 2007, they had built both a loyal following and a sturdier musical vision that blended Krautrock-inspired aesthetics with inventive and melodic indie rock.
The open-ended nature of The Phantom Band is not as much of a shock as it once was, but they still remain one of Scotland’s most unique entities. Incorporating aspects of krautrock, folk, electronica and several other genres, they quickly became difficult to categorise. It means that guessing their next step was always going to be difficult. The only thing that is predictable about Strange Friend is that it retains the diverse aesthetic that’s seen them become critical darlings.
Scots electro-folk-rock mystics The Phantom Band are sticking to their guns, which can’t be an easy thing to do. Their first two albums, ‘Checkmate Savage’ (2009) and ‘The Wants’ (2011), pulled together elements as diverse as krautrock, campfire sing-songs and pure, pulsing pop. ‘Strange Friend’ is all this and more. Intra-band friction is the volatile fuel, apparently, and it produces the urgent motorik beats and soaring chorus of ‘Clapshot’, the jumpy acieeed rock of ‘Doom Patrol’ and the magical shooting-star synths of ‘(Invisible) Friends’, while somehow making a coherent, thrilling whole of it all.
Meanwhile, north of the wall, Scotland is getting its Moog on. With Mogwai having already released an album this year that primarily replaced their huge, clunking distorted guitars for weathered synths, Glaswegian indie space-rockers The Phantom Band has followed suit by trading guitars for skittering analogue synths. Much like their previous work, Strange Friends is an album bursting at the seams with excitable ideas and bold execution; a spinning top that latches on and pulls you into its frenzied world.
There’s no scientific basis behind this claim, but it’s safe to say that 99 per cent of bands that are described as some strange hybrid of genres will be terrible. To add to this, it’s also true that the more genres are thrown into the mix, the more unlistenable the results will become. Describe your band as some kind of folk-psych-power-prog-rock monster and you’re setting yourself up for a fall.
The first 10 seconds of Strange Friend is all you need to realize that listening through it is going to be—if nothing else—fun. The punchy analog synths of opener "The Wind that Cried the World" have all the charming sparkle of the 8-bit ditties that soundtrack your dusty old Nintendo titles. When frontman Rick Anthony adds his baritone to the mix, it sounds like The National's Matt Berninger has found the cure to his depression in vintage arcade games.
The Phantom Band's shape-shifting is disorientating. Atacama starts with a sparse acoustic guitar accompanying Rick Anthony's baritone, but before you can say King Creosote, some bubbling electronica kicks in. On their third album, their first since 2010, the Scottish six-piece have supposedly adopted a back-to-basics approach, though they don't scrimp on production jiggery-pokery.