Opening with the sublime ‘Eleonora’, ‘Phantoms’ is the fifth studio album from Vancouver pop-rock quartet Marianas Trench.
‘Eleonora’, sharing its name with the title of a short story by Gothic author Edgar Allan Poe, is a short sharp burst of glorious a cappella, with close harmonies very much reminiscent of Queen, who are, it transpires, a major inspiration of the band. Short, but very very sweet, it makes me wish to be serenaded with such a song. So gorgeous.
Lead singer and chief songwriter, Josh Ramsay, set the theme of ‘Phantoms’ around the idea of a haunted house, and took much of his inspiration from the stories of Poe, which he devoured to the point of the tales populating his dreams – as well as the spiritual culture of New Orleans, where death and loss are viewed as equal parts of life, and memories of the past are treasured. The tracks on ‘Phantoms’ often start out with a subdued feel, building up gradually, a reflection of Poe’s madness. Themes of death and dying are repeated in the album, with a variety of unusual instruments – such as harpsichord and theremin – brought in to work on the album, to very good effect.
Track two, ‘Only The Lonely Survive’, opens up with the guitar playing feeling like a U2 track, while the repeated “oh oh oh oh” refrain reminds us of ‘We R Who We R’ by Kesha. It’s full on pop, blasting straight out of the box. You can see why Ramsay has become one of the go-to songwriters in recent years, he’s a talent who needs to be acknowledged more. The song is upbeat, but it’s bittersweet; despairing lyrics, “love like this will end in tragedy” – there’s also the tour title cleverly embedded in the song, “suspending gravity”.
Next is the unexpected, but very appropriately spooky sounding harpsichord opening of ‘Echoes Of You’, which also uses theremin to good effect. Poe’s writing has found its way in great slabs into this track, with references including the title of his short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, to the very theme of the song itself: the story tells of the perfect murder – and the descent into madness from the fact of it. The song is more focused on memories of the people from the past they’d thought they’d “killed off”. Featuring the vocals of Roger Joseph Manning, lead singer of now disbanded San Francisco powerpop group Jellyfish, the band one of Ramsay’s inspirations – the track takes a number of genres such as pop, EDM, and gothic rock and expertly blends them into a fantastic synthesis of aural pleasure.
‘Don’t Miss Me?’ will have you wondering how on earth Josh Ramsay is able to sing the way he does. Lyrically meanwhile it’s pure poetry, with lines such as “I’m just a drink away from honesty” capable of making you regret not reading more. The utterly authentic sound of the album – the band uses real instruments throughout – indeed, even in the most electronic sounding of tracks – is another thing that will make you regret your misspent youth, but oh well.
Track five, ‘Wish You Were Here’, is an upbeat bop, with more than a touch of Queen-like close harmonies, as well as that from other bands such as The Beach Boys, who also employed this technique. The deeply personal lyrics are another factor which remind us of Queen, it’s an insight into what Ramsay has been going through. There’s a gorgeous gospel effect as well, which I’m desperate to see how they tackle on tour later this year.
To my way of thinking, the true test of a good album is if you lose yourself completely in listening to it, when you’re supposed to be listening for review. This was certainly the case for ‘Phantoms’. ‘Your Ghost’, the first track on the second half of the album, is upbeat and poppy, and for MT fans will probably be the most “classic” sound on the album.
If you asked me what my favourite track was, I’d be hard pressed to go past ‘Glimmer’, mostly because it’s a track that made me cry on first listen, and who doesn’t love a tearjearky song! It feels like it would have been a great final track for the album, but in retrospect, it would mean we’d not have had the gorgeous final three songs. There’s some most excellent lyrics on this track, which add to my love for it – such as
And I got a torch I’ve been carrying
Hangs heavy on a thin
Thin line that we’re made of
Something we’re afraid of
Something we’re afraid to try
Isn’t that simply divine?
‘I Knew You When’, the first single release from the album, is all staccato and bass guitar, with the vocals themselves becoming instruments. Marianas Trench are such a well-oiled machine; each instrument slots in perfectly next to, alongside, within, the others. Beautiful.
Penultimate track, ‘The Death Of Me’, is an incredible showcase of Ramsay’s vocals – and I say this as if none of the other songs do that job as well – of course they ALL do – but his falsetto is absolutely to die for; there’s also a very neat ending, in the final minute and a half, which sounds a bit like a funeral dirge. Orchestral and sombre, and quite dramatic. Just as it finishes there’s a piece of what sounds like backward masking, spooky and spectral, almost as if the ghosts of the past are letting us move on, as they suck back into the ether. It’s a great set up for the final track, ‘The Killing Kind’, which Josh told us was, not his favourite track – he loves them all equally – but the easiest and most fun track to do. It has some great elements, such as a nursery style rhythm to the lyrics:
‘Don’t love the bottle but the bottle loves me’
The harmonies are close and intertwined, with dramatic staccato instrumentals, ascending into a James Bond style soundtrack, before Josh’s vocals go stratospheric, and guitars perfectly replicate that of Brian May’s work with Queen. ‘The Killing Kind’ comes full circle repeating the refrain from ‘Eleonora’, and closes the door on the album in the most perfect way possible.