Album reviews: The Phantom Band | Marilyn Manson

The Phantom Band. Picture: Contributed
The Phantom Band. Picture: Contributed
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MANY, many musicians over the years have succumbed to the ignominy of the album filler track(s) or, worse, a barren crop of below-par bonus material required to pad out the Japanese version of their latest work or the allegedly deluxe redux version for those fans who like to buy everything twice or more.

The Phantom Band: Fears Trending

The Phantom Band - Fears Trending

The Phantom Band - Fears Trending

Chemikal Underground

Star rating: * * * *

Not so The Phantom Band, who run such a talented ship that they can make a whole new satisfying album out of the tracks they left off their previous offering. So it is that the anagrammatic Fears Trending appears, beacon-like, less than eight months after their third album Strange Friend, a product of the same recording sessions, and mooted by the band as its “evil twin”.

Whatever their relation, it is obvious that this material deserves to be heard as a piece – it’s too damn good to fritter away on b-sides or bonuses. Where Strange Friend was arguably more direct in delivering an ebullient rush or moments of tenderness and vulnerability, Fears Trending is more layered. Yet there’s not an ounce of fat in these seven songs which, true to Phantom form, are packed with wildly contrasting yet complementary flavours.

Tender Castle is quite the appetizer with its acid funk keyboard arpeggios and Rick Anthony’s commanding lead vocals contrasting intriguingly with a distorted, more tentative co-vocal line from Alasdair Roberts (whose new album is also reviewed this week). Local Zero mixes up fuzzy indie rock guitars, propulsive drumming and proggy keyboard flourishes. Yet again, Anthony’s folky vocals blend in naturally, while Denise Hopper teams parched bluesy guitar, martial drums, acid house synth embellishments and an almost siren-like vocal from Anthony.

Spectrelegs milks its contrasting elements expertly, setting up a false folky reverie before blasting out an almost metallic prog riff. Biffy Clyro have filled arenas with this sort of seamless sonic switchback. Why not Phantom Band? Perhaps because this Glaswegian six-piece don’t trade in easy anthems but in absorbing atmospheres, such as the slightly ominous psych folk textures of Black Tape or The Kingfisher’s heady Hammond organ jam, with Anthony hamming up the vocal, or the soundtrack swell of closing number Olden Golden which begins as a beseeching folk ballad, decorated with silvery strands of synth and ends six minutes later with an expansive Morriconesque chant. Now that’s how you deliver a bonus. FIONA SHEPHERD


Marilyn Manson: The Pale Emperor

Cooking Vinyl

Star rating: * *

Despite the occasionally demonic vocals and a strategic scattering of Biblical references on his latest album, the one-time self-styled God of F*** is no longer number one cultural bogeyman in his native United States. Rather, the newly christened Pale Emperor’s turgid brand of gothic rock angst has found a place on faux-edgy television and film soundtracks. No coincidence that his chief collaborator here is soundtrack composer Tyler Bates, whose input prowls rather than bites, never exploding with the rage, energy nor even glam mischief of Manson’s greatest hits. The visuals are still striking but the soundbite lyrics (“we’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones we love”) feel pretty stale, and there’s even a burst of conventional blues rock guitar on Odds of Even. FS


Chlopsy Kontra Basia

Riverboat Records

Star ratingL * * * *

Now for something completely different, but first we must learn how to pronounce their name: “Whopsee Kontra Basha”, which means Boys Against Basia, and the charismatic Basia is a girl. Here making their recording debut, this Polish trio first surfaced via the Battle of the Bands online competition, and what they purvey is their local folk music but with an avant-garde edge, and with a vivid jazz colouring from their double-bass/percussion combo. They do folk tales with a fantastical twist, and village moralities, and it’s all great fun. MICHAEL CHURCH


Schubert: De Schöne Müllerin


Star rating: * * * *

The celebrated accompanist Geoffrey Parsons died of cancer 20 years ago this week. Two months earlier he had performed Schubert’s Die Shöne Müllerin with baritone Wolfgang Holzmair at the Wigmore Hall, which was recorded by the BBC, and which is now released on the venue’s own label. There’s nothing in this poetically robust performance to suggest Parsons’ health was failing, which it clearly was. Holzmair breathes meaning into every phrase, earthy but ruminative. Parsons’ support is intuitive and subtly inspiring. KEN WALTON


Alasdair Roberts: Alasdair Roberts

Drag City

Star rating: * * * *

Alasdair Roberts’ recent albums have been sociable affairs but, save for some soft backing harmonies from The Crying Lion, this appropriately self-titled album is a sparse solo affair. However, if you are minded to hear some bleak tales of love and hardship set to adaptations of traditional folk melodies, then Roberts has the goods to hold the attention, the combination of his lithe and lyrical fingerstyle guitar playing and reedy voice as mesmerising as his use of antiquated language on songs – In Dispraise of Hunger, The Problem of Freedom – whose themes are as relevant now as if they really had been written in bygone centuries. FS

Findlay Napier: VIP Very Important Persons

Cheerygroove Records

Star rating: * * * *

Findlay Napier is an established figure on the folk scene, from his work with the Back of the Moon Band, Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Bar Room Mountaineers. Here, co-writing with Boo Hewerdine, who produced the album and guests on some tracks, he presents an intriguing string of song portraits of chequered characters, from film stars to conmen, cosmonauts to tramps. They’re sometimes dramatic, sometimes poignant and sung with real heart. They open with the wistful Hedy Lamarr (and, no, I didn’t know the screen vamp pioneered a precursor to wi-fi), with Gillian Frame providing effective harmonies, while Gustaf Ljunggren’s growling lap steel guitar haunts the brooding George C Parker. The downward slides of baseball hero Mickey Mantle and country star George Jones are lamented, the latter with shimmering mandolin. Elsewhere, Eddie Banjo is an affectionate holler about a tramp who lived in a cave outside Wick, while the mellow drift and heartfelt lyrics of Valentina celebrate the first woman in space.JIM GILCHRIST


Kenny Wheeler Quintet: Songs for Quintet

ECM Records

Star rating: * * * *

This session proved to be the final recording of the Canadian-born, London-based trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Kenny Wheeler, who died last September. It is a very characteristic outing, full of his trademark plangent, melancholic melodies set in intricate harmonic and rhythmic frameworks, and the occasional waver in execution in his flugelhorn playing does nothing to detract from the emotion and improvisational imagination he brings to the music. His excellent collaborators, Stan Sulzmann on saxophone, guitarist John Parricelli, Chris Laurence on bass and drummer Martin France, ensure that this is a genuinely collective achievement, as well as a fitting farewell to a contemporary jazz great. The tunes include typically original takes on waltz and tango forms, a bluesy revisiting of a 1994 composition from the Azimuth trio (retitled Old Time), and an adaptation of The Long Waiting from his big band repertoire. KENNY MATHIESON