The Phantom Band

Checkmate Savage

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Starting with the crisp Motorik click and synth crunch of "The Howling," Checkmate Savage finds the Phantom Band still engaged in a good hotwiring of fine templates that is starting to give the Scottish group more of its own identity. If the group perhaps inevitably recalls some of the strongest rhythmic moments of a similar forebear in fusion, Stereolab -- the chunky but fluid beats and ghostly guitar of "Crocodile" could just as easily come from that group as from joint wellspring Neu! -- then the Phantom Band still have their own take to provide, at once graceful and almost sternly focused, something which comes out perfectly in the surging conclusion of that same song. A good amount of this comes from easy, clear singing, which gives the band a bit more swagger than some of the more po-faced neo-art rockers out there now. As a result, a song like "Folk Song Oblivion" has some of the direct kick of bands like Pavement or the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience at their best, catchy and shimmering, but that same feeling is equally evident on the instrumental closer "The Whole Is on My Side," ending the album with a soft glow.

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