Phantom Planet – S/T

A driving drum solo opens Phantom Planet’s new record, heralding the arrival of a new drummer and a new sound. Precisely one mini-celebrity skin-beater leaner, Phantom Planet has streamlined its sound and cut up its smooth edges. After releasing two albums of fluffy, inoffensive Cali-pop, it seems that Alex Greenwald and co. have opted to turn the volume up and redefine their aesthetic.
So what, precisely, is this new aesthetic? Well, it has something to do with the insistent drumming, massive guitars, and writhing bass. But most of all, it’s driven by Greenwald’s detached crooning. Yes, folks, this is a garage-rock record. Any arguments that Phantom Planet has attempted to cash in by riding the coattails of a fad are probably negated by the fact that garage rock isn’t as big as it used to be. Then, is it a revival of a genre only just dying? Not likely. From the sound of songs like “Badd Business,” “Big Brat,” and “Knowitall,” Phantom Planet doesn’t seem trying to appease the musical adulteration requisite for MTV airplay.
Speaking of the songs, “Badd Business” rides a bassline lightly salted with ska, its pacing skipping along nicely for its two-minute length. “Big Brat,” the infectious single, rides a danceable beat with the most detached vocals on the record. The bridge and chorus invite instantly loveable shout-alongs, establishing the inevitable “good times.” “By the Bed” is probably closest to what Phantom Planet built its fame on, a saccharine melody complemented perfectly by frenetic drums midway through.
The closer, “The Meantime,” is driven by a funky drumbeat and an off-kilter guitar solo. It’s a jumpy, energetic close, but something interesting lurks below the fray. Just underneath the catching tune, a guitar swoops and soars to epic peaks and valleys. The effect reeks of post-rock; it sounds like Phantom Planet took the riff straight from the album Godspeed You! Black Emperor never made. In the middle of the song, the drums, lead guitar, bass, and vocals subside, letting the mysterious visitor take center stage for just a few seconds. Eventually, everything collapses back on itself and the song continues as before, but from that point on, you can’t help but focus on the strumming layered deep underneath it.
Whether this is a meaningful statement promising more progression or just an uncanny moment of enlightenment is yet to be seen. Phantom Planet has certainly taken some steps towards improving the band’s sound and broadening horizons (sorry, mediocre, cushy pop isn’t gonna cut it), but nothing so far suggests a trajectory towards total sonic revolution. This record has peaked my attention, and for the first time in the band’s career, has actually persuaded me to look forward to the next release to see what is cooked up next. In the meantime, I can only enjoy the surprising fun of Phantom Planet and rock out to my thoughts.