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Posted March 31, 2010 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Phantom Power

Eric Littman is a complete unknown at this point. Little more than a paragraph of information is available online about his project, Phantom Power, and I actually do not know how it got in my hands in the first place. It could have put on my hard drive yesterday or last year… I’m not really sure. In fact, I listened to it based on the fact I had no clue what it was. Expectations were relatively low since a quick Google search turned up nothing on the artist or tagged album (Phosphophobia), but this is one of those fresh discoveries that should find its place on several blogs after this feature. While there is not even an official online source for Phantom Power (or even anywhere to buy their material), perhaps this impending exposure should inspire Littman to make his material have a more accessible online presence. The tracks on Phosphophobia are pretty damn stellar, so I will gladly try to help him out. After all, this chillwave movement is gaining an ample amount of exposure but there are not enough quality artists to support the initiative. A project like Phantom Power suggests there are many inspiring efforts on the horizon though, specifically from young musicians specializing in a lo-fi craft. I mean, the name alone (Phantom Power) probably derives from the power method used most commonly for bedroom recording.

Phosphophobia is little more than a bedroom recording, but the ideas Littman has are revealed with impressive precision in regard to his style’s structural appeal. He laces on plenty of reverb like Washed Out, Neon Indian, or Memory Tapes, but unlike them his songs are led by guitars as opposed to synthesizers. Phantom Power’s production, with its drowned-out vocals and cheap shots of percussion, is very likable in the backdrop of these songs. Littman has prevalent melodic ability, and his ability to weave in multiple layers of guitars with intricate grace should not be underestimated. A track like “Nutcracker Punch” recalls the droopy guitars of late ’80s post-punk, showing shades of both The Chameleons’ ominous and anticipatory croon and The Smiths’ glistening array of guitar arpeggios. Standout “Chaz Doesn’t Write on the Beach” recalls this period even more with its bass line, as its deep presence over a variety of rhythmically-aided guitar progressions provides a serene feeling of nostalgia mostly associated with post-punk’s later days. At least for me, the role of instrumentation and general production throughout Phosphophobia is an immediate throwback to both the college-rock and post-punk of the late ’80s.

Littman himself does not have a particularly empowering voice, but like Caribou’s Dan Snaith I would not be surprised if he transforms his so-called imperfections into a product of stylistic singularity. He is already showing that sort of potential on “Since When Were You a Nihilist?”, one of Phosphophobia‘s more lighthearted efforts. His deep vocals recall Interpol’s Paul Banks or Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, both artists unsurprisingly fond of flaunting past influences. This track contains a crisper and more playful melody compared to the rest, so it is a nice breather placed in the middle of the release. “Tunnel Vision” only contains a slight hint of Littman’s vocals, but like the fade-out approach employed on Interpol’s “The New” his vocal presence becomes obliterated by bursts of guitar that are exceptionally vital to the track’s atmospheric and melodic success. This fade-in of guitars and gradual fade-out of vocals is a common technique for post-punk revivalists like Interpol. Littman showing a great grasp of neat little genre-based staples like these despite his young age is impressive. He is simply a college student working on writing songs, but his stylistic vision is remarkably strong considering the movement he so effectively mimics was largely gone by his birth date. No worries though; we now have skilled artists like Littman to remind us to remember what is worth remembering.

RIYL: Washed Out, Neon Indian, The Chameleons UK, The Smiths, Caribou, Interpol, Memory Tapes, Magnetic Fields, Real Estate, Girls, Memoryhouse, Animal Collective

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Phantom Power – Tunnel Vision

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Phantom Power – Chaz Doesn’t Write on the Beach

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Phantom Power – High on the Highline

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Phantom Power – Nutcracker Punch

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Phantom Power – Drinking in the Park

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round (Phantom Power remix)

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].