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Phantom Planet (self-titled)

Phantom Planet

Release Date: 01.06.04
Record label: Epic/Daylight
Genre(s): Rock

90 Music-Critic Score
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Sleeper of the Year... So Far
by: matt cibula


The lyrics are good, touches of poetry here and there but not pretentious in the least. The musicianship is perfectly fine, the production tight and clean. But it’s not these things that make this record the 36-minute marvel it is. It’s the vibe.


I know, that’s corny as hell, what’s a vibe anyway, haha, someone’s been drinking again, etc. But I mean it. Phantom Planet has tapped into something here that is what rock music is all about, an energy, an attitude, I don’t know what it is. I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I am, so it’s Sleeper of the Year so far.


Maybe it’s just that they’ve upgraded their ambition, and their record collections. The music referenced here indicates that Phantom Planet has been listening to all the right stuff: among the 50 or so bands mentioned in the liner notes, the most accurate comparisons are to the Cure, Radiohead (but really only their first two records), Blur, the Flaming Lips, and the English Beat (“Jabberjaw” is virtually a remake of “Mirror in the Bathroom”); among the ones not mentioned, the Panorama-era Cars and Ted Leo and Cheap Trick and the Walkmen.


So, yeah, they’re rockin’ here. “After Hours” is all slippery momentum and wistfulness, a miserablist’s anthem with a funky beat: “Watchin’ everybody leavin’ / I tell myself looks can be deceivin’” is a damned good line, and singer/songwriter Alexander Greenwald’s plaintiveness hits it right on. This voice turns up harder-edged and snotty in the western-movie emo theme “You’re Not Welcome Here” and the Numanesque ramble “By the Bed.” But it’s awesomely disorienting to hear Greenwald sounding completely different on the Two-Tone/metal bash of “Badd Business” or the epic funk-wave closer “The Meantime,” more authoritative, ballsier, more in control.


Dave Fridmann produced this record, but it doesn’t sound like any of his hyper-cinematic work for the Lips. In fact, you couldn’t identify his work at all on propulsive smackdowns like “Big Brat,” with its nagging sloppy guitar lines and random screaming noises in the left speaker. He’s having as much fun as Phantom Planet seems to be, maybe on a “strip-it-back” trip or something; the way the drumbeat for “1st Things 1st” intrudes into the ending of “Big Brat” is genius, but the way he frames the guitars on the latter track is what’s really genius; no one’s playing pretty, everyone’s playing FUN, it’s contagious.


My fave thing here is a perfect example of this: “Making a Killing” is either pro- or anti-greed, can’t tell, doesn’t matter when you have fuzzy garage guitar work like this and big fat songwriting hooks that you see coming a mile away and still cannot avoid and lyrics like “Cut your losses / Cut your ties / Start a new life / (These things they can) Tie you up / Wear you down / Wear you in and wear you out”.


It’s just good music, with good words, played well. What the hell else do you want out of a CD? 24-Mar-2004 9:11 AM