phantomband

After four years away, Scottish troopers the Phantom Band are billing ‘Strange Friend’ as their no-nonsense, back-to-basics album. That’s not to say things have got any simpler: across its 45 minutes, coil-sprung post-punk gives way to thunderous heavy metal, Velvetsy garage-band scratch and burbling electronics, and there’s even a dabbling with the kind of quiet Americana that Bill Callahan has recently made his own. However, where things have become more streamlined is in the melodies – for all ‘Strange Friend’’s stylistic restlessness, there’s a wonderfully addictive, blunt-instrument insistence running through Rick Anthony’s tunes here: his baritone croon cuts through the surrounding complexity with impressive directness, and offers a continuity and cohesion to the record.

It doesn’t always work – ‘Sweatbox’’s sweetness is dulled by overly forced cleverness, and stretching ‘No Blue Shoes’’s one good idea over six minutes is not the Phantom Band’s finest editing decision. But when the musical density and melodic simplicity coalesce, as on the marvellous crash of ‘Doom Patrol’, the results are both charming and impressive.

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