Most musicians I know hate answering what most laypeople would consider a fairly simple, straightforward question: “What does your band sound like?” The dismissive answer (and the one that will satisfy your aunt during Thanksgiving dinner) is, “We play rock ’n’ roll.” The other way musos respond is by giving so many genre-blending descriptors, no one can really glean any real impression of what their band sounds like, but in the case of Phantomelo, this latter approach seems to at least get you in the ballpark.
“We’ve had a long-running joke about this in the band,” said singer/guitarist/keyboardist Will Rakkar. “We came up the phrase ‘gothic-psychedelic-surf-rock.’ I’m not sure that’s the best description, but it’s pretty close.”
Rakkar, bassist Amanda “Panda” Cuenca, and drummer Jeff Gerardi are set to release their first single, “The Tempest,” on Saturday at Lola’s Saloon. And although “gothic, psychedelic surf-rock” does touch on elements you’ll hear in Phantomelo’s music, it’s a better description of, say, The Cramps than it is the Fort Worth-based three-piece’s particular brand of dreamy, sensual indie-pop.
The track, which was recorded by Rick Greenwood at Denton’s Geneva Post Audio, features anything but dingy vibrato-bending hollowbodies. Rakkar’s sharp, up-down chord accents over an undulating, echo-drenched second guitar are more Interpol’s Daniel Kessler than the Cramps’ Poison Ivy or The Misfits’ Doyle von Frankenstein. And the vocal melody, with Rakkar’s percussive “Whoo,” makes for a Dandy Wharhols-level sing-along hook you won’t hear on Sisters of Mercy records.
Though “The Tempest” is a fairly focused pop song, Phantomelo’s other material is a practical stone soup of seemingly random tastes thrown together into some loosely cohesive amalgam. They shift wildly from Ventures-style surf leads to gypsy-jazz-inspired walking chord comps before slipping into a trilling pan flute-sounding solo played on synthesizer.
Even the band’s name is a call to discovering your sound from anything and everything around you. Phantomelo is a made-up bastardization of the term “ghost melody,” the name Cuenca gives to those moments when you hear rhythm or music in innocuous everyday objects, like the monotonous “whom-whom-whom” of a turning fan or the “chunk-cha-chunk” of a train along its tracks.
It’s this random absorption and implementation of disparate sounds and styles that Rakkar hopes listeners find interesting. Or at the very least, it’s given him the freedom to explore things he finds interesting.
“If you play jazz music and make a mistake, everybody knows,” he said. “But if you write your own music, nobody can ever say that. No one can say, ‘Hey, man, You messed up’ or whatever, because it’s your stuff.”
Ironically, underlying Phantomelo’s sometimes measure-by-measure musical left turns, there exists an indeterminate root of something that you can point to and say, “This. This is what Phantomelo sounds like.” But I for one am still not sure how I’d go about describing it.