Phantom Punch

Sondre Lerche and the Faces Down / Sondre Lerche

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Phantom Punch Review

by Tim Sendra

Sondre Lerche threw his fans for a loop with his last record, the jazzy, low-key Duper Sessions. While it was suitably classy and sophisticated, those who had come to love his snappy and intelligent pop songs were left in the lurch. Phantom Punch marks a return to form, but with some interesting alterations. The record's not as arranged as Two Way Monologue, with less instrumentation on hand and no traces of the soft rock (strings, lush vocal harmonies) that softened that album's edges to great effect. For the most part, it's also louder than previous efforts, with spiky guitars pushed to the fore and Lerche almost snarling out his lyrics at times. While this could have been a recipe for disaster, with the songs sounding forced or phony as Lerche strained to "rock out," instead Phantom Punch is a very successful blend of brains and brawn. Part of this is down to Lerche and his band, the Faces Down, knowing exactly what to play at all times; part of it is down to Lerche's songwriting and arranging skill. The album is laid beginning to end with tough, smart, and hooky songs that don't fade on repeated airings, instant classics like "John Let Me Go" and "Say It All" that are like a blueprint for how to construct a good pop song -- interesting chord changes, subtle shifts in dynamics, witty and wistful lyrics, a vocal that's both forceful and nimble, and a rock-solid chorus with a singalong hook. Just about every song on the album follows a rough approximation of this format, which means they are all gems. Only the sweet acoustic ballad "Tragic Mirror" and the album-ending "Happy Birthday Girl" deviate from the formula; the latter is an epic-length noise ballad that sounds out of place on the album but also packs a sonic and emotional punch. It also displays Lerche's range; much like his recent tour mate Elvis Costello, you get the feeling that he could do just about anything on his next release and make it work. As for Phantom Punch, it lays down incontrovertible proof that Sondre Lerche can make a convincing and exciting straight-ahead modern rock record.

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