By NATHAN SOLIS
Think of Isaac Rother and The Phantoms as that warm sounding tune emanating from a juke box in a Tiki bar catching fire on the Fourth of July. The sound is knee-buckling simple. Take some 1950’s roadhouse blues and let it yellow in the sun for a few decades, soaking up the years on the windowsill like sun tea. This callback flavor could be found in other acts like Shannon and The Clams or King Khan and The Shrines. Rother’s all analog album The Unspeakable Horrors of… gives us a warm, B-movie thrill.
It’s gritty, coarse, but also a bit loose, jangling like a hot rod. A group of Muppets could posture as Rother and his band The Phantoms. On the track I’m a Ghost, Rother growls, howls and does a mock-Dracula impression, all of it teetering with frenetic guitar work and bass drums chasing the harmonies up and down the steps of a spooky house. Yes, that Rother knows how to growl. His whole act shines most brightly on My Cryin’ Eyes, where he wails a bit too closely to the mic, all of it blown out fuzzy with heartache. The mid-song female vocal that counteracts Rother’s grit is the cherry on top. The lyrics really drive home that crooner persona Rother is chasing. “I’m going to build me a boat now/ made from sorrow and pain/sail the ocean of tears that I made.”
The Phantom persona that swoops in throughout the album could be Rother’s Hyde, rough around the edges, chewing up the scene, a stark contrast to the syrupy backup singers. You’d expect to see BEWARE THE PHANTOM written on a bathroom stall. On the track Night of the Phantom we get to hear Rother’s other singing voice, a bit more grounded and human.
Rother is smuggling his band from Olympia, Washington and settling it down in Los Angeles. They’re the new gang in the rumble. Most likely gang leader Rother carries a slice of onyx in his pocket, part of some grand voodoo. Hopefully the L.A. sun doesn’t exorcise The Phantom.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.
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