Phantom Drummer – A Crash Course in Aviation EP

Phantom Drummer
A Crash Course in Aviation EP

Phantom Drummer is actually Pat Spurgeon, a man who has toured with bands like Antenna, Brando, and punkers Steve Kowalski, usually hitting the skins. Spurgeon is an accomplished drummer; there’s no doubt about that. Regardless of what he’s done before, you can hear right away that he has what it takes to power an indie rock song.

So all that explanation probably makes you think this album is going to be all about drumming. I expected to hear a powerful mix of percussion and chimes, perhaps with a little guitar thrown in. Instead, this album is one of the nicest indie pop albums I’ve heard in a long time. Sure, there’s an emphasis on the rhythm and percussion, but it never overwhelms layered guitar lines, adequate bass, and even vocals. And like with most or all Smokeylung recordings, Spurgeon shows off how great a 4-track recording can sound.

The album starts with “Stru Tural,” a Tristeza-like melodic affair with very light and slightly plinky guitar, acoustic guitar, and Spurgeon’s own talented drumming. When the electric guitar comes in, loud and slightly jarring, the song takes on an entirely new feel. Perhaps Pele is a better reference point for this instrumental, as Pele uses drumming to a greater effect than Tristeza. Derek Richey of Brando adds vocals on “Amber Waves,” a softer, more acoustic number that has something of a Pavement-esque feel to it, and the title track, which is a slower, more lofty and well thought-out pop song. Using echoes and keyboards to give it something of a Beatles feel, this song showcases both Spurgeon’s drumming and Richey’s vocals.

I don’t care if Spurgeon is supposed to be a drummer; his guitar work is excellent, as exhibited on the rolling and slightly psychedelic instrumental “What the Prophet Said.” “Mister Lowery” is, however, more percussion focused, starting with very light drumming and progressing to one of the strongest rhythm-oriented songs yet. There’s nothing earthshaking here, but it’s tight and precise and quite impressive. “Ohio Ground” also has something of a Pavement/Flaming Lips feel, made more so by an acoustic-guitar lead rhythm and assorted quirky sounds and bleeps. Behind all that is quite a nice pop song. “Engine Song” is odd, almost a throw-off, with tambourine and acoustic guitar and somewhat morose singing. And there’s a few other throw-off ditties here and there.

The Phantom Drummer isn’t all about drumming, thankfully. While the percussion and rhythm here is strong and prevalent, it doesn’t overwhelm the songs. Rather, guitar lines are added along with decent vocals for a very nice pop-rock sound. These songs are quite good, and while not the most original in the world, they have elements of sheer brilliance. Just overlook the most disturbing photo on the back, I recommend.