Sound — 9
Checkmate Savage is the first album of The Phantom Band, newly formed Scottish band whose band members have been playing the Glasgow scene in various bands for several years. This is the main reason why when first listening to this record you have a hard time believing this is a first album. The richness of the sound is due to the vast diversity of styles each song manages to compress. Checkmate Savage is mostly a progressive/psychedelic album. However depending on the song you'll also be hearing pop-rock, post-rock, folk and sometimes new wave (but - and I never thought I'd say this one day - it sounds all good). The variety is incredible and makes each song clearly different from previous one. The instruments and voices, and the way they are recorded, are what helps this album keep a consistency throughout the nine songs. The guitar playing is a little unusual, the bass & drums have a little 90's feel to them which adds to the specificity of the band. The singer's voice is also instantly recognisable to his scottish accent. This is were the band loses one point in my opinion, it sometimes sounds like the emphasis was put on his accent (Folk Song Oblivion) and it can sometime sound disturbing.
Lyrics — 9
There are 8 "sung" songs and one instrumental song (Crocodile) on this album. And I have to admit, I didn't really pay attention to the lyrics yet considering how awesome the music is: even 1 month into the album I still have discoveries to make. Considering the album title and song titles (Burial Sounds, Folk Song Oblivion, Throwing Bones, The Whole is on My Side...) it can't be all bad. However some lyrics, like some good riffs, have the ability to stay in your head for a day. Folk Song Oblivion and his "I can't see for the mountain silhouette" repeated several times over a killer guitar riff can severely mess up your concentration for the rest of the day. The singer's voice is pretty good, adapts nicely to the style of each song, and generally fits in really well... Except for the (rare) parts where the accent kinds of kills the mood (happens 3-4 times in the album). A special mention for Throwing Bones and it's impressive (and completely unexpected) vocal melody in the middle of the song.
Overall Impression — 9
This is the firs album of The Phantom Band, and for a first effort it is really incredible. There are 9 songs on the album and only one did not manage to convince me yet (The Island). The rest of the album is nearly perfect. It's a very original album, always surprising, songs never seem to take the turn you'd expect them. It's also an exciting album once you consider it was recorded with mostly "live takes" (the band jamminh while recording) which makes me believe this is a must hear live band. The better songs are... almost all, everyday I hear something new which makes me like a new songs. Currently my favorite are: Folk Song Oblivion, Throwing Bones and The Howling (listen to them on their mypace). In conclusion this is an incredible album (9 songs: 55 minutes) with everything you'd want in an album: surprises, instrumental prowess, fun and long psychedelic endings (well the last one is what I want!). It's a great listen and is definitely worth the buy (I don't regret and would definitely do it again), if only because it's their first adn they deserve to be know so future albums can reach us and hopefully be at least as good.