Album Review: The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage

Ok, so The Phantom Band is Scottish, thereby giving them an unfair edge for earning my undying love and affection. But before you start worrying that my vision is blurred by saltires and sporrans, fear not. I love The Phantom Band for a whole lot more than the mere accident of nationality.

For instance, earlier this year the band happened to put out on a record, Checkmate Savage, on the most excellent label Chemikal Underground (home to various other excellent bands of the past and current day such as Arab Strap, Mogwai, and Sluts of Trust). As a general point of reference, I like to think of The Phantom Band as being a sort of British Sea Power with a brogue, adding a little bith more northerly darkness to an already heavy and intellectual brand of music. I for one would maim to see those two bands share a stage (BSP + TPB = Happy Megan).

But what makes the record so good, you might ask? The easy answer is everything, of course, but I'll expand a little. As with British Sea Power, The Phantom Band just exudes more intelligence than most bands out there. Clinic, too, shares this smartypants, highly-educated and infinitely quirky sound. Looking at the album cover, it makes me think that maybe there's some deep symbolism behind the Shaker chairs and upside down doorways. Perhaps it's the unconventional lyrics that go well beyond the lovelorn moping or angst of many a band. And, of course, they've got fantastic lyrics. "Leave my spirit/cuz lust and sin/is all that I want" might just be my new (unofficial) motto.
The first song on the album, "The Howling," the song from whence the aforementioned lyric comes, was my introduction to the album. When I first heard it, I stopped what I was doing and just sat still. It's such a curious song, layered with unexpected sounds and ghostly choruses and driven by a very distinct, powerful voice. It's just over six minutes long and it feels like an odyssey, so much musical ground does it cover. So too can be said of the entire album. It's a mish-mash of so much that it nearly bursts at the seams. My absolute favorite track on the album is "Halfhound, " posted below for your listening pleasure (you're welcome). It's several songs in one, as with just about every song on Checkmate Savage. I love the taut riff that serves as the spine of parts of the song, bordering as it does on sounding slightly sinister. But damned if I don't adore each and every one of the nine songs on this disc. Another one to pay close personal attention to is "Island," a slower, gentler (longer) number than most of the others. But again, this is a fantastic record. Buy it now.

If the above hadn't already convinced you of the fact, you can consider it a safe bet that Checkmate Savage will be in my top ten albums of this great year 2009. Give it a few listens, and it just might make its way into yours.

mp3: Halfhound (Buy: The Phantom Band)


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