Phantom Band – Freedom Of Speech (album review)

buy Freedom of Speech from amazon.comIt probably says that I’m not a very good fan when I didn’t realize that most of the members of one of my favorite groups (Can) went on to form another band directly afterwards, and I hadn’t been aware of it until recently. I knew that Holger Czukay had gone on to release some great solo work (especially the amazing Canaxis) and Damo Suzuki has been roaming the world and jamming with kindred spirits for nearly the past 30 years or so, but for some reason or another the Phantom Band escaped me.

This year, Bureau B has released the first two (of three) albums from the group, and while they’re quite different than one would expect from Can (even the more pop-oriented Flow Motion), there’s some stuff here that’s interesting.

Okay, actually their self-titled debut is incredibly cheesy and I can barely get into it, but their second album Freedom Of Speech has some amazing work. I’m not sure if it’s a related data point, but bassist (and singer) Rosko Gee (who also played with Can on early iterations) is much more of a factor on the self-titled debut album from the group, and it seems like it wants to play it safe whenever possible, treading around some noodling, rather nondescript guitar-jam style 70s music sound with just enough weirdness around the edges to make you wonder what’s going on.

On Freedom Of Speech, though, Gee is gone again, and the group instead teams up with spoken-word performer Sheldon Ancel. Normally, such an arrangement would cause me to roll my eyes, but the music takes a severe left turn into much darker territory, with loads of dub reggae influences and general experimentation that actually works. The end result is a much more interesting release that has held up incredibly well over the past nearly 30 years.

Opening with creepy track that blends pounding, almost military drums with warbling synth drones and spoken word phrases that seem drawn straight from 1984, it certainly sets a different stage. From there, the group drops off into “E.F. 1,” a cut that definitely takes hints from dub reggae, but keeps things so sparse and sterile that it certainly doesn’t manage to sound like an imitator.

“E.F. 1” – Phantom Band

From there, it’s onto another clattering, spoken-word driven number in “Brain Police” before the group slides into a piece that jumps back and forth from straightforward rocker to queasy droner in “No Question.” From there out, the group dips into several more styles, but one of the most effective songs on the entire release is the bizarre “Gravity,” one of many pieces where the group locks into an incredibly catchy meld of guitar, synth and rhythm section while Ancel has license to free-form over the top, with both the music and words getting more agitated as it moves forward through just under six minutes running length.

“Gravity” – Phantom Band

With 10 songs running just over 35 minutes, it’s an album that never gets hung up on one particular sound for too long. It’s a wild ride, too, with songs that touch on everything to the aforementioned dub to minimal avant garde pieces that sound closer to Suicide. As one might be able to gather from the description, it has also aged a lot better than some of its contemporaries, filing in nicely behind the output from Can themselves.

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