Review of Smoke & Mirrors Album by Phantom

When was the last time you bought an album consisting of 2 distinct movements on either side with 'songs' tenuously held within the fabric of the music? There are not many Prog-Rock acts recording mammoth opus like suites these days so the chances are it was either a very long time ago, or you never have. (And no Phantom are not a Prog-Rock band).

Smoke & Mirrors is the debut album release of French Canadian Elsie Martins and British collaborator Jonny Martin. It is in 2 parts consisting of nine songs all linked and bound through a cohesive soundscape. Ironically the album is only available as a download and not as a vinyl long player or even a CD. This is slightly odd as, firstly, it is so well divided into the 2 parts that you can almost virtually stick it on and flip it after 20 minutes or so to play the b-side, and secondly because in this day and age of quickly digested commercial soundbites the download arena usually means people tend to pick out only their favourite, immediately accessible parts, leaving the discovery of hidden gems to all but the dedicated faithful. No matter, if success is forthcoming as a download a shimmering 12" vinyl alternative maybe a logical option, who knows?

Phantom Smoke & Mirrors Album

Having flirted with success as a five piece, The Phantom Lovers, the duo have embarked on a more individual and considered musical path. The post-industrial hum and ominous doom laden sound that is within Smoke & Mirrors carries with it a foreboding, dark and somewhat sinister overtone that permeates the atmospherics of the album wonderfully.

The sometimes ethereal, sometimes jagged vocal notes that Elsie imparts are as beguiling as PJ Harvey and as intriguing as Shara Worden. The cinematics of the score come in waves of tension and delight with echoes of Orbital and The Grid, Eno and Fripp, CindyTalk and Pink Floyd. The filthy bass and drum machine lead opener 'Sphinx' maps out the grey and grim landscape of Elsie's once idealised English Gothic fantasy. Tangerine Dream meets Einsturzende Neubauten under desolate and stormy skies, where fuzzy guitars and tambourines combine with typewriters, roosting crows and 'various explosions' to imagine up a disturbing world of David Lynch like creation.

The ringing of the church bells (Think AC/DC!) that sound out each passage in part 1 imply horror and add drama. The whole experience is quite theatrical without being passé. It's almost like an audible equivalent to watching The Blair Witch Project without hearing the pre-hype or knowing the back story. Taking references from 80's Goths, ambient composers and avant-garde electronic pioneers has resulted in a very attractive sonic symphony. Smoke & Mirrors is both unnerving and edgy, clever and original.

Whatever the new Twilight Saga will be, and you know it will be, this could be the perfect soundtrack. Phantom and Serena Maneesh, although not immediately obvious choices as Hollywood's alternative answer to John Williams or Ennio Morricone, could just provide the right level of credibility and cool to be viable. Currently touring with Tweak Bird, Phantom will be well worth getting in early for.

Andrew Lockwood.