Of all of the UK buzz bands to crop up over the last couple of years, the Phantom Band has remained one of the most mysterious to me. The band’s debut, Checkmate Savage, was a solid album, but it didn’t always gel, lacking a sense of focus. On top of that, the songs themselves felt abnormally constrained for a debut. The album really left me wondering what exactly the band’s ultimate vision was. Here we are, a year and a half later, and the Phantom Band has already delivered its follow up The Wants. Although The Wants may not shed much light on the band’s intentions, it does find them becoming nearly unhinged, letting the listener hear what this band is really capable of.
The Wants is a dense album; its winding passages require quite a bit of attention to uncover. It’s an overused cliché for a reviewer to call an album full of subtleties a grower, but there really is no better description for an album this opaque. “The None of One” unpacks slowly, building from a beautiful folk song into something altogether menacing. Each instrument is slowly introduced until a motorik beat kicks in and drives the song forward, only to veer right off into a synth based closing crammed with cascading sounds pulling in all directions. This track alone sees banjos, analog synths, and pianos colliding together. Elsewhere, songs are adorned with vibraphones, dulcimers, doo-wop harmonies and even something called a shelvaphone.
The Phantom Band’s adventurous spirit is reminiscent of Super Furry Animals or the Beta Band; they’re a band searching, exploring their options and ending up with comparison-defying gems. No concept is too out there and their creativity is certainly admirable. When their ideas work, the results are galvanizing – “Everybody Knows It’s True” is a beautiful melting pot of inspirations. Occasionally, however, otherwise superb songs are mired by oddly distracting production touches. On the opener “A Glamour,” The Phantom Band squeeze an awful lot of melody out of song built around one chord. At the same time, all of the bizarre sounds supporting the rhythm section divert the listener from the song’s weightiness. It’s really the album’s one major flaw, but it’s an easy one to overlook considering the overly controlled nature of the band’s debut.
The Phantom Band covers a lot of ground on The Wants, and it’s not the most obvious ground either. Somehow, the band manages to give it all a purpose; each shifting mood offsets the last in what is ultimately a set of interlocking pieces forming one fascinating whole. There was some serious thought put into the dynamics here. That’s not to say every decision they came up with was a good one- some songs seemed so crowded they almost feel cartoonish – but you can at least respect the attention to detail and sheer ambition. An album as mystifying as The Wants doesn’t need to be perfect; the listener does just fine letting the Phantom Band’s imagination run wild.