Phantom Tails' frenetic rock
A year ago Phantom Tails played their first show at the West Bank's Bedlam Theatre, one of the better of many second homes for the cities' odd artists, dancers, thespians, and musicians. To a thin and seated crowd (the hardest to impress, by law of mob rule), in the middle of a large and cluttered room, the band played a set that ended with a standing ovation. It was their inaugural applause. Making it through a first show should be hard enough, but coloring the people impressed is rare at best.
For an interview, they wandered through a dog park abutting the Mississippi River, their Rottweiler homeboy Bodhi chasing sticks as big as himself on a ludicrously nice summer day, the band members bullshitting and talking about Neil Diamond cover bands, the flooded river, and tags etched into the sandstone.
No one can play his first-ever live show and do well, and that holds true here. The men of Phantom Tails were all in the excellent, long-gone Plastic Chord—whose single the Current's Mary Lucia admirably but belatedly blew up last year—touring and recording and weathering all the things you read about in the beginning chapters of rock biographies. Shortly after Plastic Chord's dissolution, former trumpeter-turned-percussive alchemist Logan Kerkhof, keyboardist Serge Hernandez, and singer/guitarist Orion Treon began practicing at their home in the row houses of Florence Court near the U of M.
"Logan basically said, 'Hey I got this drum machine,' and we said, 'Bring it over.' The three of us started jamming and within the first hour and a half we had like 12 songs, something like that. It was just one song after another after another after another," says Hernandez. An MPC and a breakup: recipe number 6,043 for a great band. Dave Dorman was an obvious choice for a bassist, living yards away and having been in two of their previous bands (not counting the Devo cover band that played a packed theater in Madison). "They started practicing in secret," Dorman says. "I'd hear them every once in a while but it was all clandestine. Then Orion was like, 'Wanna play bass?'"
"I told them, 'I'll make beats for your guys' songs,'" says Kerkhof. "It started becoming where we'd get together and jam and I'd have made new beats already—like with 'Light of the World,' I took all the samples, and then harvested from their songs and re-appropriated them into this different beat. Then they wrote a song on top of that."
"Regurgitations of regurgitations of regurgitations," says Dorman.
What that sizes up to is a dense type of crisp and get-down rock 'n' roll more pinned by Treon's delay and twanged guitar than by Kerkhof's bashing, skittering beats, which owe just enough to 30 years of hip hop. A jagged and flippant kind of melancholy runs through their whole debut, Sounds of the Hunchback Whale; some semi-sad futuristic badass (think duster and ray gun) on a tear would indubitably listen to this on his MePod. Hernandez's synthesizers wrap and come to the forefront, flourishing and vamping in equal turns with a carnival lean, either joking or deadly serious 100 percent of the time, and Dorman's toothed bass layers and jogs, anchoring an easy-to-follow schizophrenia that would be flat without the backbone. But this all is and isn't correct; in every song each of them bubbles to the fore and slips back, and none of the songs would be what's so good and fresh without all present and accounted for.
Sitting near the beach, if that's what you call being near the Mississippi, it struck me how well these guys fit together, which I guess should have been obvious after they told me they wrote a dozen songs in an hour and a half. But regardless, theirs is a weird, talented, exciting thing—a type of happenstance you don't want to wait years to hear.
PHANTOM TAILS play a CD-release show with Reckless Ones, Fort Wilson Riot, and Bight Club on FRIDAY, JULY 9, at the HEXAGON BAR; 612.722.3454
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