The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage

The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
Chemikal Underground
January 26, 2009

What It Sounds Like:  Scottish Indie Rock scattered with various bits of experimentation, psychedelia, extended instrumentals, and restrained tendencies that hold them back from rocking too hard – all filtered through a vibe of the 70s.    Their bandcamp page tags them as “proto-robo-folk” – I’d like to think that works.  They’d be good openers for My Morning Jacket or Mumford & Sons.

And I’ll follow slowly
My skeleton walks
It rises from the earth
And it screams your name out
To never cast another curse.

When The Phantom Band started out, they used to change their name every couple of weeks, simply for the sake of not taking themselves too seriously.  NRA, Wooden Trees, Los Crayzee Boyz –  the list goes on.  They wanted to be able to experiment with different styles to find where they wanted their band’s sound to go.  When they once changed it to The Phantom Band, it simply seemed to stick.

This Glasgow collective certainly are diverse enough to call themselves Phantoms.  They shift all over the place on their 2009 debut, from the retro guitar-pop of The Howling to the dark riff and organ combo on Folk Song Oblivion, and all the way to an almost minimalistic nine-minute ’round the campfire in the middle of the forest in the middle of an island in the middle of the ocean in the middle of nowhere’ number – which is simply titled, Island.

It’s a multiple listen album to discover any of its secrets, that’s for sure.  It’s certainly not a hooky record filled with right-off-the-bat catchy riffage.  The beauty of the steady bass on Left Hand Wave may not catch you on your first listen, nor will the wonderful “can’t put your finger on it” keyboard tone that makes its slight appearances throughout the track.  But keep watching.  Keep listening.  It’s a lesson that is hard for me personally to learn sometimes:  less is more.  That’s the case here with the Phantom Band.  It’s learning how to be grand (example:  the finale of Burial Sounds) without being overbearing and adding ten layers of guitar.

Lead singer Rick Anthony is certainly a large reason why the “proto” reference was made up top.  His delivery is unique in the most common way and hard to describe; somewhere in between sprechgesang (but it’s certainly not) and monotone (but it’s certainly not), but it sounds so commonplace you  may almost miss it.  Maybe I’m diving into it too deep, and the best word would just be…lazy!  Whatever the case, it’s interesting, and to hear him deliver lines like:  Will there be a ghost on the day I die? / Following / Fallen / Dust I tried / To live beyond my lust and lie / It’s all that I was / Well carry my body to the reckoning wind / Howling, Howling – it’s not an unnerving experience, but at times, they guy could use a little sunshine in his life.

Points knocked for the almost eight-minute instrumental Crocodile, slapped right in the middle of the record at track four.  The music isn’t bad, but it’s just out of place and an interruption.  Some may not mind, but I do.

Overall though, it’s solid – mind you, it’ll take you a couple of listens to get there.  This isn’t a quick fix, but the effort you put into this record will be worthwhile.


If you had to listen to two tracks:  Folk Song Oblivion / Left Hand Wave


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