Phantom Phunk – Arboles Ossific
Labels are useful for selling things in the marketplace, but ultimately mean nothing when discussing serious artistic work. The best work defies easy categorization. It will be nearly impossible for music websites or merchants to successfully pigeonhole Tampa-based four piece Phantom Phunk. Their name might suggest some sort of post-modern funk band, but such a suggestion couldn’t be further off target. Phantom Phunk prefers to name the ten songs appearing on their debut Arboles Ossific as indie rock/graveyard pop and that should be good enough. In the end, as the cliché goes, it’s the music that matters and the talent level producing these songs suggest powers of mind over matter. There is a superhuman ambition here to cover every musical base that appeals to the band’s members and, surprisingly, they pull off everything they turn their hands to.
The tour de force begins with the fierce thrust of “Snowy in Florida”. Some listeners may be slightly startled by the band’s immediate introduction of recorded media that provides the first human voices on the album, but they will be even more taken aback by their eye-popping commitment to executing, quite well, a dizzying array of shifts and changes that would befuddle most bands. They settle into a more traditional mode for the album’s second track “Sip of Wine” and co-lyricists Hector Alexander and vocalist Sasha Cheine produce tremendous results with this turn in direction and the lyric has unexpected poetic elegance that no one listening to the first song would have expected. The band’s first single and the album’s third song, “The Unheard Spirit Symphony”, covers familiar themes of relationship struggles with, once again, unique and frequently graceful writing. The musical arrangement bobs and weaves, showing different faces to the listeners, but this is ultimately a more commercial piece than anything listeners have thus far heard on the album.
“Gateways” begins with some acoustic guitar but quickly morphs into a straight-forward rock romp with a steady beat. The band’s often evocative writing garners some of the spotlight here as well – the band’s ability to treat well-worn themes with a degree of fresh sophistication is one of the key elements making this release successful. “Brother’s Keeper” is one of the more broad-based accessible songs on the album and has a delicate veneer that the previous six songs, excepting “Sip of Wine”, hasn’t prepared you for, but yet it never sounds out of place. The same personal vision, manifested by four, driving this album is abundant here as well. The eight minute-plus “Tommy’s Cosmic Avocado” might initially conjure visions of a heavy-footed disaster thanks to it being nearly twice as long as any other track on Arboles Ossific, but Phantom Phunk can handle the extended pieces with every bit as much inspiration as the much shorter songs. They end the album with a final surprise on “Jungle Crunch”. This returns the band to the wild musical textures of the album’s opener and even incorporates rap into their musical identity.
The most astonishing thing about this band, however, might be their confidence. Much of the songwriting features difficult musical changes and an assortment of interlocking parts that, typically, young musicians aren’t ready to take on with a debut. Phantom Phunk, however, is quite fearless and never sound unsure of themselves on Arboles Ossific.
9 out of 10 stars