Louisville’s Phantom Family Halo adds another page to archtype-laden book of rock folklore. Right before their long-awaited grand statement to the world drops, the sprawling 2 LP Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die, and they begin their nationwide vision quest with Russian Circles, the band’s auxiliary drummer, Tony Bailey, suddenly passed away. As an esteemed and prolific member in the local music community, the news sent shock waves through the city. However, the band did not utter a word about it publicly. Phantfamlo never discusses peripheral information in any capacity, even when directly relating to the people in the band, and they’ve always kept things close to the chest. Undoubtedly this adds to their mystique. Monliths, despite its foreboding mood, is congruent to this attitude. The grainy, dry psychedelia found within evokes both an intimacy and mystery not often found in this genre. If you knew nothing else about them, you’d probaby be baffled as to who they are, where they came from, and what they want from you. They probably like it that way. Phantom Family Halo doesn’t float above the horizon line like the flower power groups do – they’re standing behind you.
Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die is a bold, majestic record that’s viscerally formidable and fresh – a crafty stew of swampy acid rock, haunting soundscapes, immense space, a slight gothic flavor, and eternal heaviness. Five songs in is a track called “Dec 2012,” and I’ll be damned if I can find a better brain-burning soundtrack for the apocalypse.
Opener “Blackouts and Runaways” truly makes use of playwright Bertolt Brecht’s assertion of “The past inside the present,” citing that “the rapidity of change and the increase of knowledge in the modern world have forced us to see history in a new light: not as a finalized past but as a process in which the new continuously transfigures the old.” Without sounding pretentious and wanker (I promise you I’m not going in this direction), Phantom Family Halo has synthesized this idea to great effect. “Blackouts and Runaways” meshes conventional garage rock/harsh vintage psych and hauntological retro-futuristic electronic flourishes to create art without a time stamp, a warped perception of what rock music used to be (as we understand it), and a proclamation that fears the future. In other words, it’s fucking heavy, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album – an body of work that’s chronologically ambiguous yet sonically pointed.
The motorik 10-minute opus “Monoliths” scares the shit out of me. It’s the sound of someone looking into your window after dark, donning a masquerade facepiece and wielding a nine inch blade, making your balls retract ten-fold. No one has written more paranoid krautrock saturated in impending doom. “Third World War” is nothing but pure mindfuck. A twinkling, bucolic melody carries you through over a minute of serenity before pure menacing proto-metal and a blanket of vehement, Link Wray-style reverberated vocals dicks you in the dick. And yet, songs like “Alive and Well” peak out from around the corner – a playful, aurally credulous three-minute ballad that mixes a bit of Boards of Canada atmospheric synths with orchestral samples that, aside from the melodic vocals, wouldn’t sound out of place on Aphex Twin’s Richard D James album.
There’s a surprise at every corner. And while the instrumentation can be somewhat sparse and rigid, each movement through the album’s massive 18 songs reveals strata of mysterious sounds, cavernous imagery, and lush evil. Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die an invigorating and exciting listening, while at the same time, provokes your eyes to constantly dark around for predators all the while. It’s weird and it’s awesome. It’s the heat-induced forest fire ruining the hippies’ fun during the summer of love. Most importantly, Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die does not easily fit in any genre or subgenre, acting more as an anthropomorphic, mercurial, growing beast that is certainly one of the most profound statements out of Louisville in years and, and in my opinion, one that holds up well against any given heavy hitter in the experimental rock field. Get lifted.
Phantom Family Halo’s Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die is available now on beautiful vinyl or in digital download format courtesy of Karate Body Records.
For fans of: Six Organs of Admittance, Fever Ray, Spiritualized, Boris
Fagen-Becker Quality Rating
As some footnotes to the review above, why don’t you go on and have a real taste yourself. Here is some video of “These Flowers Never Die” from their show at Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge last July that I went to and had a sweet time. Of course, sadly, this footage is some of Tony’s last. But, tour’s still on. I’ll post those dates closer to their leave after the holidays.
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Phantom Family Halo is Awesome (7.16.09)