You know how it is – you wait four years for an album by The Phantom Band, and then two come along in the space of seven months.
Fairly damn hot on the heels of last summer’s Strange Friend comes its anagrammatical evil twin Fears Trending. Whereas the former was unashamedly joyous (or as close an approximation as a bunch of Scotsmen can get to it), the new companion piece is most definitely of a darker hue. And, what a way to kick off the year. It’s a fair flung gauntlet to the rest.
As a statement of intent, you won’t get clearer than opener Tender Castle. Well ,as clear as something so densely complex can be. Featuring fellow-traveller Alasdair Roberts, it’s a weird 21st century plainsong. It has a soaring density (if not the beats) that brings to mind eurodisco. And, since it popped-up on-line late 2014 has been serving as a magnificent trailer for the album.
Elsewhere the band apply their skewing techniques to recognisable styles and tropes, capturing them as their own. There’s the Morricone riffage of Denise Hopper. which takes the flamenco-ish guitar motif and reprocessing it as a tumbling motorik groove. It will leave you wondering why there were no bagpipe drones in spaghetti westerns. On The Kingfisher, the band allow themselves to live all their teenage dreams of being in The Doors (c’mon, everyone goes through a Doors period). It can only be described as flagrant. Yet, still manages to do all the things you expect from these guys. Hitting an epic groove, and not a whiff of the clunky po-faced posturing (that eventually ends that Doors period for most).
There are a few forays into the more traditional music that was missing from last years album. Centre piece Black Tape the kind of fantastic-monastic lament you only get from The Phantom Band. Closer Olden Golden is a beautiful plaintive epic. With a massive optimistic guitar whoah-oh finally. Stirring stuff.
As ever, The Phantom Band crowbar as many ideas into each of the seven tracks on here as some bands fail to in a career. Never tricksy or indulgent. Familiar but completely new. Intelligent music that’s never exclusive. That’s a pretty difficult thing to pull off. They never fail to surprise and delight. Partially culled from the same recording sessions as its predecessor, Fears Trending serves very much as the yin to its yang (or whichever way about that should be). However, they do not rely on each other. Both stand alone as complex pieces of majestic beauty. This one the darker, more brooding.
Wonderful stuff. Just don’t make us wait quite so long for the next one guys. Go on, I dare you!