For fans of The Phantom Band, it’s either a case of feast of famine. Having released their debut album Checkmate Savage in January 2009, The Phantom Band returned in October 2010 with their sophomore album The Wants. After that, nothing was heard from The Phantom Band for four long years.

During that period, the six members of The Phantom Band were working on solo albums or side projects. Then in June 2014, The Phantom Band were back with their long-awaited third album Strange Friend. After nearly four years, the Glasgow based sextet were back. However, the cynical amongst the music cognoscenti  wondered who long it would be before The Phantom Band returned with album four? Many people thought years. Very few however, thought seven months.

That’s how long has passed between the release of Strange Friend, and The Phantom Band’s fourth album Fears Trending. It was released on 26th January 2015, on Glasgow’s premier label Chemikal Underground, thirteen years after The Phantom Band’s career began back in 2002.

In the early days of The Phantom Band’s career, the band’s name constantly seemed to change. So much so, that it took four years before The Phantom Band settled on a permanent name. That was the case with The Phantom Band. 

Formed in 2002, The Phantom Band changed names numerous times. The Phantom Band were variously called NRA, Les Crazy Boyz, Los Crayzee Boyz, Tower of Girls and Wooden Trees. Then in 2005, they adopted the name Robert Redford. That didn’t go down well. 

The band were asked to change their name. They also had to remove all references to it from their online presence. As a result, Robert Redford’s only release, The Mummy and Daddy Dance, has become something of a collector’s item. Following their controversial dalliance with Hollywood, the band reformed, under the name Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Their new moniker didn’t last long. Having played a series of concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson released a limited edition cassette. Only 150 cassettes were sold and they too, have become a collector’s edition. After that, Robert Louis Stevenson changed name again. After four years together, The Phantom Band were born in 2006.

The Phantom Band was a how the band’s fans affectionately referred to the band’s activities, or some would say lack of activity. A year later, The Phantom Band released their debut single Throwing Bones on the London label Trial and Error Recordings. Released to critical acclaim, Throwing Bones resulted in Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground signing The Phantom Band. 

Since then, Chemikal Underground has been home to The Phantom Band. They’ve released a trio of albums since signing to Chemikal Underground. Their debut album was 2009s Checkmate Savage. The Wants followed in 2010. After that, nothing has been heard of The Phantom Band. That’s until June 2014, when The Phantom Band released their third album, Strange Friend, on Chemikal Underground. It was released five years after The Phantom Band’s debut album Checkmate Savage.

Before heading into the studio to record their debut, The Phantom Band headed out on the road. They played some of the biggest festivals during the summer of 2007. Then in early 2008, The Phantom Band headed into the studio.

Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band’s debut album was recorded at Chem 19 Studios in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. Recording began in early 2008, with former Delgado Paul Savage producing Checkmate Savage. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Damien Tonner, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. Together, they recorded nine tracks which became Checkmate Savage. They were then mixed at Franz Ferdinand’s studio in Govan, Glasgow. Once recording of Checkmate Savage was completed, it was released in January 2009.

On its release in January 2009, Checkmate Savage received widespread critical acclaim. Critics realised this was no ordinary debut. Instead, it was an ambitious and cerebral release. The Phantom Band examined a various  themes on Checkmate Savage. This included over-population and dwindling natural resources. Checkmate Savage were a band with a social conscience. They also looked like being Scotland’s next big band.

Following the commercial success and critical acclaim of Checkmate Savage, The Phantom Band headed out on a series of UK and European tour. Across Britain and Europe, The Phantom Band played to sell-out shows. One of the most memorable gigs was T In The Park, where the Glasgow based The Phantom Band were hailed conquering heroes. There were also barnstorming appearances at London Calling in Amsterdam, the Storasfestivalen near Trondheim and  Sound City in Liverpool. Then as 2009 drew to a close, The Phantom Band played at the prestigious Transmusicales festival in Rennes. 2009 had been a huge year for The Phantom Band. Now they had to begin work on their sophomore album, which became The Wants.

Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. Often, a band write some of their best material before they’re signed. They’re young, hungry for success and dedicate themselves to getting a record deal. They spend inordinate amounts of time writing their songs. Then when they sign to a record label and enjoy a successful debut album, things change. No longer have they the same time to write an album. Instead, they’re writing on the road, as they tour their debut album. As a result, often, the quality of music suffers. For The Phantom Band, the recording of their sophomore album The Wants, wasn’t easy.

When The Phantom Band entered Chem 19, to record The Wants, the album wasn’t written. So, much of The Wants was written in the studio. The other problem was time was tight. They couldn’t take their time recording The Wants.This caused problems within The Phantom Band. However, with Paul Savage producing The Wants, the album was recorded within the timeframe. However, after The Wants was recorded, The Phantom Band lost its drummer.

Having recorded The Wants, drummer Damien Tonner left The Phantom Band. Considering The Phantom Band were about to tour The Wants, this presented the band with a problem. A new drummer would’ve have learn all their songs and then head out on the longest and most gruelling tour of their career. Before that, The Wants was released in October 2010.

Despite all the problems the band had encountered, The Wants was released to the same critical acclaim as their debut album Checkmate Savage. The Phantom Band had overcome the problem of the difficult second album. Now they headed out on tour, with a new drummer Greg Sinclair.

Greg Sinclair was brought in to fill the void left by the departure of Damien Tonner. It couldn’t have been easy. The Phantom Band had been together since 2002. Despite this, Greg settled in to his new role. 

On the day The Wants was released, The Phantom Band played the CMJ festival in New York. After that, they hooked up with another Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit. The Phantom Band supported them as they played Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Chicago. Having won over American audiences, The Phantom Band headed home.

There was no time for rest. It was a case of saying hello to friends and family and heading out on a brief tour of Britain. After that, The Phantom Band spent two months touring Europe. It was one of the most gruelling schedules they’d embarked upon. Having started in March 2011, the tour finished just in time for the festival season to begin. There was no rest for The Phantom Band. They played at festivals like Latitude in Suffold, Walk the Line in Den Haag and The Camden Crawl in London. Then to crown this summer of festivals, The Phantom Band played T in the Park in their native Scotland. By now, they were well on their way to becoming one of Scotland’s best bands. However, since then all has been quiet on The Phantom Band front.

Away from The Phantom Band, the six members of the band have various side-projects to keep them occupied. Rick Redbeard enjoys a successful solo career. He released his debut solo album, No Selfish Heart in 2013, on Chemikal Underground. Iain Stewart is a member of Bronto Skylift, an experimental rock band. Duncan Marquiss, Andy Wake and Greg Sinclair sometimes, perform as Omnivore Demon. They’re best described as an improvisational group. All these various side-projects are what has been keeping the members of The Phantom Band busy. However, recently, they headed back into the studio to record their third album Strange Friend.

For Strange Friend, The Phantom Band wrote nine tracks. These tracks marked the recording debut of The Phantom Band’s new lineup. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Iain Stewart, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. It wasn’t just the band’s lineup that had changed.

For the first time in their career, Paul Savage didn’t produce The Phantom Band. Instead, Strange Friend was produced by The Phantom Band with Derek O’Neill. He also engineered Strange Friend with Paul Savage. Strange Friend was mastered by Kenny MacLeod. It was then released in June 2014.

It was a case of all hail the returning heroes when Strange Friend was released in June 2014. Critics hailed the album as a triumph for the Glasgow-based sextet. Critical acclaim and plaudits came the way of The Phantom Band, on the release of Strange Friend. It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait. So, hopefully, will Fears Treading, The Phantom Band’s fourth album. 

There’s a reason for that. The seven tracks on Fears Treading were recorded at the same recording sessions as Strange Friend. These sessions took place at Chem 19 studios, Blantyre, which previously, has been a musical home from home for The Phantom Band.

That’s where all The Phantom Band’s albums were recorded. At the sessions that took place during 2014, nine tracks were chosen and became Strange Friend. This left seven tracks. The temptation for many bands is to release a sprawling, epic album. However, often that doesn’t work. After eight or nine tracks, the listener’s attention wanders. So, it made sense to keep the other seven tracks in reserve. They became Fears Trending. 

At the recording sessions at Chem 19, The Phantom Band recorded the seven tracks they’d written. These tracks marked the recording debut of The Phantom Band’s new lineup. The lineup of The Phantom Band on Checkmate Savage included a rhythm section of drummer Iain Stewart, bassist Gerry Hart and guitarists Duncan Marquiss, Greg Sinclair and Rick Anthony, the lead vocalist. Andy Wake played keyboards. This was the start of a new era in the history of The Phantom Band.

That new era began in June 2014, when Strange Friend was released to critical acclaim. Seven months later, Fears Trending was released to similar critical acclaim on 26th January 2015. This should further enhanced the reputation of The Phantom Band as one Scotland’s biggest bands. Is that the case though?

Tender Castle opens Fears Trending. Dark, moody, broody buzzy synths set the scene, before the rhythm section explodes into action. They’re joined by scorching guitars and banks of shimmering synths. In the midst of the arrangement is Alasdair Robert’s dreamy, lysergic vocal. He’s accompanied by close harmonies, while the rhythm section, synths and keyboards drive the arrangement along. They play their part in a melodic, dramatic fusion of art rock, electronica, post rock and indie rock. 

Local Zero sees the tempo drop as retro sounding synths and the rhythm section accompany Rick’s vocal. It veers between hopeful and joyous, through thoughtful and wistful. As memories coming flooding back, Rick experiences a gambit of emotion. All the time, the rhythm section and searing, blistering guitars combine. They take the track in a much more traditional, rocky sound, as emotively Rick delivers the cinematic lyrics. The result is a love song Phantom Band style.

A wash of glimmer, shimmer synths sweep as play Denise Hopper unfolds. Soon, a crystalline guitars that sounds as if it should feature in a Spaghetti Western plays. By then, Rick’s vocal is a cathartic outpouring of equal parts emotion and drama. It’s joined by buzzing, fuzzy synths, chiming guitars and the rhythm section. They provide the backdrop for Rick’s despairing vocal,  on this cinematic post rock opus. 

Deliberate guitars drive the staccato arrangement to Dark Tape along. Meanwhile, punchy harmonies soar above the arrangement and rolls of drums add an element of drama. Taking centre-stage is Rick’s vocal. It’s a mixture of emotion, drama and pain. The pain runs deep. Desperation and loneliness fill his vocal. He makes the lyrics come to life. So much so, it’s as if he’s experienced what’s he’s singing about. The rest of The Phantom Band pickup on this, and lift their game even higher, and compliment Rick’s vocal. Later, they even add soothing, calming harmonies, as if trying to heal his pain and hurt.

Briefly, Spectrelegs has a somewhat eerie, futuristic, sci-fi sound. That’s until the arrangement bursts into life. It’s as if The Phantom Band were just toying with you, before kicking out the jams. In full flight, they’re an old school rock band, albeit one with a twist. Their rhythm section and machine gun guitars furiously drive the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Rick happily adopts the role of moody rock ’n’ front man. There’s a twist though. Bursts of sci-fi synths punctuate the arrangement. Then all of a sudden, the arrangement almost grinds to a halt. It takes on a dreamy, lysergic, post rock sounds. That’s until drum rolls and machine gun guitars join the futuristic sounds, and the arrangement reaches a captivating, genre-melting crescendo.

A subtle sprinkling of shakers are joined by stabs of a gothic organ as gradually, The Kingfisher unfolds. Cinematic guitars, that sound as if they belong on a Wim Wenders soundtrack, resonate, as they’re panned right. Meanwhile, drums match the organ step for step. Just like Rick’s slow, broody, soul-searching vocal, they add to the drama. Rick’s vocal is yin to the arrangement’s yang. Together they combine to create a dramatic epic, whose roots are in seventies rock.

Olden Golden closes Fears Trending. It has an understated introduction, with just a guitar and banjo accompanying Rick’s pensive vocal. As remembers the past, an ominous drum beat dominates the arrangement. Rick’s vocal is sombre, and as it soars filled with sadness. Later, as Rick’s emotive vocal soars above the arrangement, washes of keyboards, guitars and the thunderous, ominous drum combine to close the melancholy, heart wrenching Olden Golden.

Although Fears Trending was recorded at the same time as The Phantom Band’s third album, Strange Friends, they’re two very different albums. Duncan Marquiss, The Phantom Band’s guitarist seems to agree. He commented  that “maybe it’s the evil twin of Strange Friend?” That’s maybe taking things a bit far. The two albums, wordsmiths amongst you will realise, are certainly related. Fears Trending is an anagram of Strange Friend. Apart from that, they’re two very different albums.

The songs on Fears Treading are longer, darker and filled with drama. Some of the songs have a much more experimental sound. Bursts of futuristic, sci-fi, shimmering synths augment the fusion of art rock, folk rock, indie rock, post rock and psychedelia on Fears Treading. It’s an eclectic and ambitious combination of influences. However, it’s a combination that works.

Fears Trending is a captivating combination of musical genres and influences, where The Phantom Band, and guest artist Alistair Roberts, continued to push musical boundaries. That’s been the story of The Phantom Band’s career. 

Since they released their debut album, Checkmate Savage, in January 2009, The Phantom Band have released a two further albums, 2010s Strange Friends and 2014s Strange Friend. Now seven months after the release of Strange Friend, The Phantom Band released their fourth album Fears Trending, on 26th January 2015, on Chemikal Underground. Fears Trending is perfect foil for Strange Friend. Listening to Strange Friend and then Fears Trending, is akin to seeing two sides of The Phantom Band. 

Although Strange Friend and Fears Trending are very different albums, they’re both are captivating and groundbreaking albums from one of Scotland’s top bands, The Phantom Band, who for thirteen years, have been pushing musical boundaries to their boundaries, and sometimes, beyond.



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