Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Record review: Glossies - 'Phantom Films'

By Frank Krolicki

"It's on, game on--it's time to rejoin the world."

Heard during the final track on Glossies' debut album Phantom Films, this call to arms carries a good deal of weight when considering the recent history of frontman Scott Masson. In the not-too-distant past, Scott was at the helm of Chicago indie-pop/rock group OFFICE, who released their last album Mecca in 2009. Despite gathering a solid fan base during their time together and Mecca being a creatively successful record, the release coincided with the fallout and ultimate dissolution of the band. Suffering a nervous breakdown, Scott left the Windy City for a period of retreat in his parents' basement in Michigan, during which he worked on getting back to a better state of mind and collaborated with an assortment of fellow musicians on what has now come to life as Phantom.

While the lyrics on the record clearly reflect this experience, ultimately Phantom isn't a negative set of songs; as the aforementioned line of reflective-yet-jaunty closing track "Glass Days" suggests, it's more about coming to terms and coming back better, this time with more clarity. Even when the breakdown is called out directly, as on the immediate chorus of "On the Rebound," it can be taken as more of an antidote than a problem ("Now all you really need is a nervous breakdown / you're a puppet with one string dangling from the moon / good luck to you darling, you'll figure it out on the rebound"). In a recent interview with the Ferndale Patch, Scott even goes so far as to embrace the trauma: “I felt like it was one of the best things that’d ever happened to me...I really feel like everyone should have a nervous breakdown...because if you survive it, if, then the rest of your life is improved."

Musically, it wouldn't be off base to say Phantom sounds like a continuation of OFFICE's discography, though these songs have a bit more going on in terms of production and overall ambition. Random voices and other effects occasionally creep in, providing a less straightforward, more multi-dimensional feel. Still, the sort of slick, clever pop gems that were plentiful on Q&A, A Night at the Ritz and Mecca are matched here by the likes of "Black and White Films," "The Opportunist" and "Head for the Hills."

Many of the best moments on the record come when things veer further off course, though. The chorus-less "Sexy Eccentrics" starts out with a vocal melody strangely reminiscent of the verses to Tears for Fears' '80s hit "Head Over Heels" before morphing into a schizophrenic handful of additional parts that sound like they belong to a different song entirely--it's bizarrely brilliant. Another highlight, "Lipgloss Runoff," is a nervous rocker with stream of consciousness verses a chorus consisting simply of "I'm never wrong, I'm never wrong, I can't hear you." Then there's "Apple Core," a surreal number with a split personality; one side shuffles along with slightly sinister-sounding delivery and lyrics about childhood debauchery, while the other lazes along dreamily. These types of experiments mix with pop hooks to make Phantom an exciting listen, and one that you appreciate more with each play.

During their run, OFFICE created some of my favorite music to come out of Chicago. I always admired Scott's songwriting and am happy he's back with more quality music, no matter the moniker. It's true that positive things often result from trying situations, so for the sake of recognizing a rebound, one damn good Glossies record and hopefully many more to come--here's to nervous breakdowns.

Phantom Films is currently available as a free download via Glossies' Bandcamp site. You can listen to "On the Rebound" below.

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