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The Phantom Family Halo - The Legend of Black Six

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Artist: The Phantom Family Halo

Album: The Legend of Black Six

Label: Cold Sweat

Review date: Sep. 17, 2007

The debut album is, in most cases, the moment when the band has their opportunity to make an impression: what do they sound like?; who do they sound like?; will they slowly infiltrate or aggressively push their way into the room?; can you picture the instruments or is it all a mystery?; and really, just what's their story?

The Phantom Family Halo demonstrate a bit of split-personality on their debut, The Legend of Black Six. "Black River" gives the first impression of a sparse, sorta swampy approach, vocals quietly calling over a simple clattering drum rhythm and bass/piano riff. "Slender Head" blows off the accumulated dust with AmRep-inspired distorto-rock, more like Halo of Flies than Nick Cave.

"Stop the Biting" and "Broken By the Way," with its garage Mudhoney pummel, are the only other songs to include such overt rocking. Instead, most of the album is content with a slower, darker frame of reference. Plodding rhythms and repetition are the order of the day, with varying results. "In the Back of My Head" succeeds thanks to its ominous atmospherics and memorable vocal melody; the voice, almost whispered through a vaporous haze, is what makes it work. Even so, at over six minutes the song comes close to wearing out its welcome. At the other end of the spectrum, "Lady Blue" is a short, pretty song based around simple guitar strum, distant bass bowing, and straightforward, appealing vocals.

Elsewhere, the band doesn't quite manage the same trick. "Electric God in Your Galaxy" is a gothy dirge that winds up pretty forgettable, while the aforementioned "Stop the Biting" mixes experimental sounds and effects with background fuzz-guitar riffing, and the two parts don't quite gel. The vocals don't help, almost the reverse of "In the Back of My Head" as they're amelodic, muttered and never earn the listener's attention.

The extended title track, in three parts, occupies over one-third of the album and perfectly exemplifies the band's dilemma. From a repeated piano riff opening that doesn't quite carry the awkward vocals, it degenerates into a randomly noisy electronic hum and drone, which is pretty out of place amidst the rest of the album, though not bad in and of itself. Eight minutes in a bumpy rhythm of simple drums and synth buzzes takes over, with chanted vocals and bell-like plinkings that lend the section a bit of Coil-ish feel. While nice, another seven minutes gets to be a bit much, until the final static fade-out.

At the end, it's a bit hard to actually determine what impression PFH have made with this album. They can rock, but don't do it much. They traffic more in dirge-like tunes, which are at times quite memorable but have a tendency to sink into sameness. And then the band throws in an epic, filled with field recordings and electronic noises. Across their disparate efforts, Phantom Family Halo have a number of appealing elements. If they can determine how to make them all work together more consistently, they'll really be onto something.

By Mason Jones

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