Capsule Review: Phantom Planet

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April 22, 2008

3:38 AM

Phantom Planet Raise the Dead

Contrary to popular belief, Phantom Planet has written more songs than just “California” from “The O.C.” In fact, 2002’s “The Guest” packed a plethora of pop gems into one great disc. Their self-titled follow-up found them channeling The Strokes with mixed results.
Four years later, the Southern California foursome returns with new focus and a new record label. It might finally be time for Phantom Planet to get its due on its newest release, “Raise the Dead.”

First single, “Do the Panic,” carries a ’50s vibe with its “Bop bop sha do be do’s,” but Darren Robinson’s guitar cuts right through the sheen with muddy distortion. Greenwald’s vocals are playful yet disturbed, as if he’s dancing around the cult fire but thinking twice about drinking the communal Kool-Aid.

“Leader” is, upon first listen, the most unapologetic pop song. The “hoo-hoos” reek of Weezer, and the “join our hands and come along” chorus will induce a sugar coma. The song’s subtleties, however, push it out of the sunshine and plunge it into darkness. Sam Farrar nearly drowns out Greenwald with his bass, only to have Robinson pierce the sludge with this year’s contender for riff of the year.

“Now we’ll put you in our uniform / Everyone will be reborn” sings Greenwald before a children’s choir sings backup on the chorus. The quiver in his voice and the innocent children make for a catchy and creepy song unheard of from a band trying to get out of their “California” shadow.

While certainly not perfect, “Raise the Dead” marks a leap in the right direction for Phantom Planet. Kudos to Greenwald for upping his lyrical ability, and high marks to the band for showing 2008 that muddy pop can still sound interesting.

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