The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage (Chemikal Underground)

Huw Jones | Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage (Chemikal Underground)

Debut albums often fall into four categories: abysmal, anonymous, average or outstanding; but describing The Phantom Band is easier said than done. Checkmate Savage immediately falls into the latter, with their long-player account opening with what could possibly be one of 2009’s finest musical moments.

It’s a bold statement to make, but one in keeping with an album whose confident structure and subtle composition create a labyrinth of possibilities, shared secrets and songs with purpose. It's an eclectic mish-mash of creative influence that embraces electro, country, blues, rock, folk and pop; a mish-mash that should be classed bespoke as opposed to jumble sale chic.

The laid back confidence and deep electro pulse exhibited through the bass and drum loops of album opener 'The Howling' give a brief indication of what’s to come. It doesn’t try to be big or clever, but an underlying reticent passion ensures an intriguing success which is equally matched by the primeval suggestion that 'Burial Sounds' makes.

It’s quite clear from the first two tracks that The Phantom Band aren’t interested in rushing into short form pop sculptures, preferring instead to err on the left-wing side of experimentalism by weaving a web of audio intrigue. But this is a group not to be second-guessed, as the keys in 'Folk Song Oblivion' dally over a backdrop of concentrated guitar and vacant-eyed vocal rushes of pure pop brilliance, suddenly shattering what previously sounded possessed.

From here on in the ante has been skillfully upped and a deluge of standout tracks follow: 'Crocodile' takes the listener on a layered journey of instrumental narrative and lysergic discovery; 'Left Hand Wave' and 'Island' are quite simply deceptively big with timing and tempo honed to an evocatively fine art that collectively weighs in at over fourteen minutes.

'Throwing Bones' exposes the band's fantastic ability to pause, re-group, reassess and continue, creating the illusion of two songs in one before the album closes with myriad subtleties through 'The Whole Is On My Side'.

As albums go, let alone debuts, this is of the highest quality, drawing the listener willingly in, progressing with the hypnotic ease of snatched thoughts and expertly played out with complete balance. Checkmate Savage is a must have album, and The Phantom Band a must see live act.

Rating: 5/5