Meanwhile, north of the wall, Scotland is getting its Moog on. With Mogwai having already released an album this year that primarily replaced their huge, clunking distorted guitars for weathered synths, Glaswegian indie space-rockers The Phantom Band has followed suit by trading guitars for skittering analogue synths. Much like their previous work, Strange Friends is an album bursting at the seams with excitable ideas and bold execution; a spinning top that latches on and pulls you into its frenzied world.
Strange Friends is an album of varying identities, frontman Rick Anthony - whose lower vocal range sounds somewhat similar to The National’s Matt Berninger - stated that, “It can indirectly refer to a lot of different things…Living in a world that’s increasingly hyper-connected through the internet yet increasingly disconnected in terms of actual real human relationships”. A constant jostling to make your voice heard in a digital world. The way in which the album begins, it seems that this strange, disengaged friendship is a rather welcome one: the anthemic vocals and splashing cymbals on “The Wind That Cried The World”; the frantic organ stabs and warbled voices on “Clapshot”; even the gloomily named “Doom Patrol” is littered with jubilant, angular guitar loops and riffs.
The browbeaten delivery and stripped-back folk arrangement on “Atacama” is the albums first nod at the discontented disconnection between what is true, imaginary, and fallacy. Gone are the upbeat tempos and swirling synths, in come the wailing ambient washes of guitar and mournful vocals. What becomes increasingly prevalent with each listen of Strange Friend is the constant duality, the second guessing of instincts, and psychological see-sawing. “(Invisible) Friends” quickly moves from the kind of upbeat cosmic-rock you might find on The Sophtware Slump, to a firm and resounding character assassination, “Your eyes are black and lacking sympathy/You’ve not the time to see the good in me”.
Whilst most songs are tightly knitted and conceptually concise, The Phantom Band often allow themselves the luxury of drawing out passages and transitions that verge into prog-rock territory. The incessant funk-riff jam on “Women Of Ghent”, gradually turns into a floating free-form haze of distant vocals and spontaneous drum fills, only to once again seamlessly lock back into its original groove, driving towards a ebullient, fuzzy outro.
Strange Friend is a cosmic krautrock gem, like TV On The Radio raised in the Highlands, bustling with excitement and teaming with a million different ideas, eager to spill them all onto the canvas regardless of the mess it will make. But what a gloriously colourful mess to behold.