Album name: Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die
Artist name: Phantom Family Halo
Released: October 2009
Label: Crash Avenue
ZME Rating: 5/10
Ahem. It’s not that there are no words to describe the Phantom Family Halo’s recent offering: it’s just hard to string whatever words come to mind into a working sentence. Let us be quite clear: the Phantom Family Halo are a bit mad. Deliberately so, perhaps, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that listening to Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die feels a bit like watching an obscure 1950’s sci-fi B-movie about a startlingly absurd race of space-robots coming to Earth to steal 48% of our womenfolk for creepy cross-breeding purposes, while you’re simultaneously being repeatedly punched in the noggin by Doctor Wittgenstein.
(You might think that’s an overly elaborate analogy, and you might even point out that Wittgenstein wasn’t in fact a doctor. But then, that would make you an idiot. You’re not an idiot, are you?)
I’m trying – and quite clearly failing, due to my inherent rubbishness – to figure out a more concise way of describing their sound. Most people tentatively throw the term “psychedelic” in their general vicinity, and they’re not far wrong. But suffice it to say, they tend to sound more like a broken jukebox’s approximation of psychedelia than anything more traditional. Imagine slowing the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” to a deathly crawl, throw some white noise on top, and strip out the more interesting bits that emerge, before chucking in some chunky guitars and references to aliens.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Monoliths is an interesting record, indeed. The Phantom Family Halo display an admirable devotion to individuality – their sound, while certainly informed by the bare-bones fuzz rock movement of the early 2000s, mixed with a soupçon (shut up, I’m allowed say that) of singer-songwritery self-conscious tweeness, is spiced up with a large serving of dogged weirdness and inscrutability. It’s not so much balls-out rock, more balls-being-tattooed-by-an-alien-snake-lady-then-slung-into-a-blender-wherein-the-resulting-mush-eventually-coalesces-into-a-crystal-clear-vision-of-our-apocalyptic-future rock. It’s trippy. Do you see?
Thing is, once you get past the admirable ambience, there’s not much song to be found. The occasional gems, such as “Blackouts and Runaways”, “These Flowers Never Die”, the pinky-plonky “Alive and Well” (which features a protagonist living in a silo, although that might be a metaphor, but I have absolutely no idea what [meta]for) and Waited All Day For The Rain, which inexplicably put me in mind of old soft-rock whosits Toto, are hidden within a well-meaning but ultimately homogenous mish-mash of scuzzy guitar and oppressive atmospherics. It’s like an exquisitely decorated fruitcake, with a beautifully realised Christmas scene lovingly sculpted out of pristine white icing on top, all sitting on a jewel-encrusted plate whose valuable gems gleams and glistens under a warmly glowing set of fairy lights, but – oh no! – there is no cake underneath, just a sponge with an odd milky liquid seeping through it. Or something.
Where’s what’s left of the Christmas cake?
Look, guy: it’s promising, but in the end, unfulfilled promise is more tragic than no promise at all. This time out, the Phantom Family Halo have crafted an interesting, but ultimately bloated and unknowable musical obelisk. Next time, perhaps they’ll do better. After all, the best sci-fi strange-fests always spawn sequels, right?