Albums of 2014 (#9): The Phantom Band – Strange Friend (Chemikal Underground)
With Strange Friend cementing a hat-trick, we spoke to Rick Anthony and Duncan Marquiss of The Phantom Band for a look back at their glorious trilogy and a glance to the road ahead
With a gap of almost four years, the wait for The Phantom Band’s third long-player felt particularly arduous after the sucker punch of 2009’s debut Checkmate Savage and the swinging haymaker of 2010’s The Wants. Yet if the hiatus was enough time to pick ourselves up off the floor, shake our heads clear and open our blood-caked eyes again, then our first sight was that of Strange Friend coming right back at us with a flying neck-breaker.
Hopefully such a lowbrow introduction will go down well with the boys, being keen as they are for listeners not to overthink their output. “We get frustrated if people talk about how 'cerebral' our music is or how it's like an intellectual exercise,” claims frontman Rick Anthony. “That has never, ever been our intention, so this time there was a desire to make that more apparent.” Guitarist Duncan Marquiss expands on this while showing the Glaswegian sextet are unlikely to rest on their laurels. “It feels closer to how we play live than The Wants or Checkmate Savage did,” he offers. “We're getting a bit closer to making a Phantom Band record.”
After the darker, claustrophobic brood of The Wants, Strange Friend signalled a bit of a return to The Phantoms' roots, drawing more flattering comparisons with Checkmate Savage’s lighter touch and playful nuances. “I would probably agree to an extent,” says Anthony of the general perception amongst listeners. “Strange Friend is certainly a little more 'up' in mood than The Wants was. I think all three have their own atmosphere. They’re all in the same country but Checkmate and Strange Friend have more similar postcodes.”
“I'm not sure we could ever not sound like The Phantom Band, even if we went death metal” – Rick Anthony
It’s a fitting analogy for a band who, more than most, sound in and of themselves more than any external influence. Strange Friend continues in such a vein, being something of a measured progression while maintaining that core eclectic, indefinable sound we’ve come to love. “I'm not sure we could ever not sound like The Phantom Band, even if we went death metal,” claims Anthony. “There is a degree to which you need to accept what the band is and what it's good at and play to those strengths rather than try and force it to be something other.”
However, 'something other' is perhaps what The Phantoms will be offering fans in January with Fears Trending (revealed here), seven tracks largely gathered from the Strange Friend sessions that didn't quite feel at home on the record. "Maybe it's the evil twin of Strange Friend," suggests Marquiss with regards to the anagram title. "They're stranger friends, oddball vestiges and hybrids." Anthony is less dramatic. "There was a desire with Strange Friend to come back with no baggage attached and release a record that seemed really straight to the point," he says. "This record is straight to the point too, but it's just making a different point."
One point to take from Fears Trending is how rich, varied and enchanting a record it is in its own right, further highlighting the quality of its parent album. It seems futile to fight it. Just over half-a-year since Strange Friend, The Phantom Band are careening towards us, arms flailing as they gear up for a devastating windmill punch. We submit!
FROM THE ARCHIVE: