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THE PHANTOM BAND

The Phantom Band

Checkmate Savage - 10th Anniversary Deluxe Vinyl Edition

    Vault back to the dawn of 2009. Signed the previous year to Glasgow independent label Chemikal Underground are The Phantom Band, a six-piece group that melds folk, Krautrock, the blues, art-rock and anything else that comes to hand, lacing their idiosyncratic, intricate tapestries with effortless pop melodies delivered by the mahoganied baritone of singer Rick Anthony.

    The group’s debut album, Checkmate Savage, immediately attracts widespread acclaim from critics in the national music press and newspapers.

    “A record as auspicious and accomplished as it is unforeseen” – Keith Cameron, Mojo. 4/5 stars

    “This kraut-folk groove-fest could have been bashed out by The Beta Band’s little brothers” – Camille Pia, NME. 8/10

    “Were they from Brooklyn rather than Glasgow, Checkmate Savage would have been acclaimed as a benchmark album of 2009” – Michael Hann, The Guardian. 4/5 stars

    “This debut is fearlessly ambitious and unexpectedly commercial” – Steve Jelbert, The Times. 4/5


    Fans of the group’s heady brew swiftly snap up all vinyl copies of the album, the result being stratospheric prices for those searching for it on the secondhand vinyl market.

    A decade on, Chemikal Underground is proud to announce the imminent rebirth of an album that remains as spectacularly imaginative as it was the first time round, presented in a package that does 100% justice to the original songs, which were deftly produced by Paul Savage – whose credits include Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand, King Creosote, Deacon Blue and many more – at the label’s affiliated recording studio Chem 19 in Lanarkshire and Franz Ferdinand’s studio in Glasgow.

    Deserving of a place in every record collection worth its salt, the stylistically wide-open, moonstruck delights of Checkmate Savage are, for the first time, spread over four sides of heavyweight vinyl housed in a gatefold sleeve, with a download code for MP3 versions of the album’s nine songs. The record will be available exactly 10 years on from the release date of the original album.

    This new edition – cut from the original masters – is an essential acquisition for those with an appetite for wildly creative, mischievous and aurally captivating music. A no-brainer, in other words.

    The Phantom Band went on to release three more albums on Chemikal Underground – The Wants (2010), Strange Friend (2014) and Fears Trending (2015) – while Anthony, under the name Rick Redbeard, has released two solo records on the label, No Selfish Heart (2013) and Awake Unto (2016). The group has been on hiatus since the theft of their equipment while touring in Europe in October 2015.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Laura says: Given the volume of records released these days, it's easy for things to disappear into your record collection after a few months, never to be unearthed again, but this is still one of my go-to albums, years after it's release.
    The synthetic, metallic chill of the motorik rhythms and wooshing synths is balanced perfectly with heavy percussion and Rick's rich vocals adding more organic tones. It's just an amazing, inventive album that while hinting at a multitude of reference point, sounds like nothing else.

    If you’ve followed The Phantom Band throughout their career to-date then you’ll know two things of the Glaswegian six-piece: feast often follows famine, and you should never accept them merely at face value. Just as two wildly singular, diverse albums in Checkmate Savage and The Wants sprung up one after another between 2009 and 2010, before a period of quiet (solo projects notwithstanding), so the group’s more direct third record released in June 2014 - Strange Friend – more art-rock than rock-art – comes followed by seven tracks cut largely from the same recording sessions at Chem 19 in Blantyre, in the form of Fears Trending.

    Lauded last spring pretty much across the board, Strange Friend’s instant hit to the senses was the sound of a band pulling a thread tight through their naturally wandering creative tendencies and affecting a sense of positivity, even amidst quiet doubts over living in a world simultaneously hyper-connected and disconnected through the internet. For those who saw through the likes of ‘Clapshot’s’ irrepressible anti-anthem swell, though, Fears Trending is a resounding confirmation that the band’s recent recording sessions also bore out something of a darker hue.

    “Maybe it's the evil twin of Strange Friend,” comments guitarist Duncan Marquiss. “They're stranger friends, oddball vestiges and hybrids.” Chief vocalist Rick Anthony agrees, pointing out that although Fears Trending merely came about as an anagram of their third record’s title, its connotations ring true, with a greater focus on themes of online isolation that they pawed at previously. “The reference is obviously there,” Marquiss explains. “Maybe it reflects our wariness of communications technology just now – which paradoxically seem to alienate people from themselves. We're all swamped with information so I question whether the band would necessarily want to add to the clickstream.”

    Certainly the tone of the record matches this apprehension; the opening ‘Tender Castle’ – one of just two tracks, alongside ‘Spectrelegs’, that date back before the Strange Friend sessions – runs on in, imbued with the band’s recently heard gusto, yet quickly swivels on a tumbling floor of murmuring electronics and cautious intonations, setting the scene for some of the band’s weightiest music yet. There are familiar tropes here; the aforementioned ‘Spectrelegs’ introduces itself by way of a wavering electronic organ, Iain Stewart’s drumming is never less than forthright and punchy, stomping through ‘Local Zero’ with accustomed vigour. But then there are songs like the ominous slow-build tumult of ‘Black Tape’, and the poignant final track ‘Golden Olden’, which sees the band in some-part return to the Scottish folk routes that partly informed their first record (cult Scottish folk favourite Alasdair Roberts also appears on opening track ‘Tender Castles’.) “If Thomas Pynchon was asked to write the screenplay for Young Guns 3 I hope this song would be the soundtrack,” Marquiss reflects.

    ‘Denise Hopper’ differs again, taking on a melodic structure whipped up as though on an Estesian gust across Turkey, Anthony’s vocal rising and falling in its oscillating breeze. Delivered with steeliness beyond the usual dry wit that’s occasionally hinted at within the group’s usual off-kilter meanderings, the track cracks and breaks amidst a storm of guitar detritus. “That melt down at end could be one of my favourite Phantom Band moments on record to date,” Marquiss comments.

    It’d be too broad to call Fears Trending the dark side to Strange Friends’ light. The playful intricacies and deviations of The Phantom Band remain and, after all, the album was recorded at the same time as its sister. “I think it's more about the atmosphere than the writing process that splits the two albums” Anthony reflects. “I guess there was a desire with Strange Friends to come back with no baggage attached and release a record that seemed really straight to the point. This record is straight to the point too but it's just that it's making a different point.” So it goes with The Phantom Band, a group forever changing, each new evolution more often than not a prescient for what’s to come.

    FORMAT INFORMATION

    Ltd LP Info: Very limited edition 180g heavyweight vinyl.

    Ltd LP includes MP3 Download Code.

    Musically Strange Friend is the most straight-up set of recordings the band have put to wax. Fans of their previous critically-acclaimed albums, fear not; those burbling, fluttering electronics that drag their sound through a wormhole and out into the 70’s alongside the soundtracks of John Carpenter and the kosmische of Kraftwerk and Neu! remain; the elements of folk; the woozy organ sounds. The difference is now it feels as though an imaginary thread’s been pulled tight through it all; take Strange Friend's driving opening track and first single, ‘The Wind That Cried The World'.

    Singer Rick Redbeard on the song "The verses have a kind of nursery rhyme musical naivety and we wanted the choruses to just sort of blast in. The lyrics were kind of stream of consciousness that alludes somewhat to the inherent meaninglessness and randomness of artistic creation. The whole track acts as a nice opener and first single; a sort of a statement of intent after being away for so long."

    Strange Friend, like their previous outings, is the sound of six clearly distinct personalities attempting to inflict their will on the rest of the group – it’s no surprise the phrase “love/hate” is brought up repeatedly by all its members in an attempt to describe their relationship with the band as an entity – but it’s that fission between each other’s contributions that provides the intangible individuality of their music. “Like all true utopias it can feel impossible to maintain,” admits guitarist Duncan Marquiss. “But we'd have fallen apart long ago if any one band member took the reins, and that friction between people throws up music that no single person in the band would have imagined otherwise. I still hope our utopia will turn into whisky fountains and flying sandwiches.” It’s something that you can’t help but feel would be fully deserved for these most strange but wonderful returning friends.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Laura says: There’s always the danger that when six people with disparate influences come together to make music , the songs can get pulled in so many different directions that they come apart at the seams. The Phantoms have the knack of grabbing all these threads and weaving (tangling?) them into inventive near perfect pop songs. The band have already demonstrated this on their previous two albums, but now after a four year gap they’ve returned with possibly their most cohesive album so far. The metronomic bass and drums power through or drop down to suit the mood as guitars chime and riff in equal measure. Spacey analogue synth swirls add an other-worldy feel, and a whole cacophony of percussion embellish proceedings. At times this combination creates an almost euphoric feel while at others Rick’s rich folk-tinged vocals add a sense of gravity. It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait!

    ‘No man is an island’ wrote John Donne, but what about bands? Well, they’re probably not islands either, but like most things in life, you need exceptions to prove the rule. That’s why it was so remarkable when The Phantom Band, with their legion of musical references, still managed to sound quite unlike anyone else when they released "Checkmate Savage" in 2009, a debut that earned mass critical applause and made them the cult success of the year. Twelve months later, they’re still in a movement of one, and their follow-up, "The Wants", looks set to cement their reputation as one of the most inventive and vital units at work today.

    If "Checkmate Savage" was the product of a band mulling over the human race’s inexorable slide into oblivion, then its follow-up found them turning feral and heading for the hills to ride out the storm. Holing up in Chem19 (Chemikal Underground’s studio in the wastelands of Blantyre), The Phantom Band immersed themselves in a primordial soup of influences before emerging six months later, emaciated and squinting in the pallid sunlight, cradling "The Wants": a nine-track musical folly and the soundtrack to their own personal apocalypse.

    Charged with creating a second album more or less from scratch and in situ - an album upon which their creative and material survival depended - they contracted a virulent strain of cabin fever and promptly set sail into the mouth of madness. Keyboardist Andy Wake elaborates: 'As you know, The Phantom Band was built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground, so every time we record it's like an emotional exorcism. It's painful, prolonged, confusing; at times it's hard to tell what's happening outside of this other-world'. Guiding them through this tortuous birthing process was the chimerical figure of Mungo Bang, 'a spiritual adviser of sorts who came highly recommended. He also added vibes'.

    Their madness had method, because a lot came out in the mix: a forest of tuned percussion, poly-rhythmic group vocals, fuzz guitars and medieval electronics. Musical inspirations included David Lynch and John Carpenter soundtracks, German kosmische music of the 70’s, Tom Waits, digidub rhythms, R&B harmonies, doo-wop and rock'n'roll. Lyrical inspiration emerged from lycanthropy, vampires, doppelgangers and the Salem witch trials. That’s also Teenage Fanclub’s Wurlitzer organ you can hear on "Everybody Knows It’s True", alongside a host of other instruments, both homemade and hard-bought. Various bits of furniture, wood, a toy drum machine, some home-made drum triggers and FX pedals (aptly named the Phantosizer), shelvaphones, a dulcimer and the studio fire extinguisher - all had roles to play on the final recording. 'Sink [Greg Sinclair] appeared at rehearsal one day with what looked like a body bag containing at least one corpse. It turned out to be a full size vibrophone with all the trimmings', explains Wake. If any more evidence of creative initiative was required, the album opens with the sound of a baliphone being sawed into tune in preparation for a take.

    The end product represents a major leap forward for the band, a sound more of their own. Juxtapositions are more apparent – arcane folk melodies and gothic lyrical imagery straddle vintage analogue synths and primitive drum machines. 'Where Checkmate Savage was varied, we've intensified those elements, because we've got no reason to be subtle with them', says Wake. 'It's much more concentrated, more skilfully executed and with more decoration. It’s "Checkmate Savage" - On Ice'.

    The Phantom Band was pulled together from all four corners of Scotland, settling on Glasgow as PB HQ. Duncan Marquiss (guitar), Gerry Hart (bass), Andy Wake (keyboards), Rick Anthony (vocals) and Greg Sinclair (guitars) are a volatile cabal of creative contradictions: a disorientating amalgam of music, art and performance that defies categorisation and provides an object lesson in how to forge something distinct and unique from well-worn sources. "Checkmate Savage" won plaudits from the mainstream music press and the indie blogs alike, finding famous fans in Peter Buck and comic artist Frank Quitely, while the influential music emporium Piccadilly Records named it their album of the year. Their new album may be "The Wants", but what do The Phantom Band want for? 'Survival. For this album to lead to another after it, that's all. We think it's better than the last one, and if anyone agrees with us then brilliant, they can hop aboard. Those who disagree can hop aboard too, but they're sailing at the stern'.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Laura says: The mighty Phantom Band return with a superb follow up to their debut album, which was our Album Of The Year in 2009. "The Wants" picks up where "Checkmate Savage" left off adding more and more layers to their already complex sound. It's less motorik than their debut, but still with their distinctive pulsing rhythms at the heart of it. There's more analogue synth action and knob twiddling going on this time around and on each listen, you're plunged deeper into their world.
    The first band to get a Piccadillly Album Of The Year in consecutive years? The competition is pretty stiff this year, but it's definitely in the running.....

    THE PICCADILLY RECORDS ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2009

    After years of changing their identity with every gig that they performed, this remarkable Glasgow based six piece finally settled on the name of The Phantom Band in 2006. Their debut album “Checkmate Savage” was born, under the expert guidance of producer Paul Savage from the Delgados, from lengthy jam sessions that highlighted not only the band’s experimental side, but also their unique grasp of melodic looseness. Riding on a near perfect motorik beat, the songs sway and swoon with a knowing art-rock style, underpinned throughout with an earthy, almost mystical, folky Scottish vocal delivery.

    “Checkmate Savage” is otherworldly, and hard to pin down, with a freeform spaciousness that band’s only usually discover on their third or fourth albums, and in that respect The Phantom Band are most certainly way ahead of the game, one can only wonder what their next album will bring. They’ve been compared to the Beta Band, krautrock legends Neu! and Can, as well the likes of Nick Cave, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, the Violent Femmes and Captain Beefheart, but The Phantom Band are truly out on their own. A quite fitting, and truly exceptional album of the year.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Laura says: Given the volume of records released these days, it's easy for things to disappear into your record collection after a few months, never to be unearthed again, but this is still one of my go-to albums, years after it's release.
    The synthetic, metallic chill of the motorik rhythms and wooshing synths is balanced perfectly with heavy percussion and Rick's rich vocals adding more organic tones. It's just an amazing, inventive album that while hinting at a multitude of reference point, sounds like nothing else.


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