Late April is either an apposite time to release an album called, ‘No More Summer Songs’ or it’s totally inappropriate, I guess it may depend on your state of mind when it comes to the oncoming annual onslaught of heat and sun, with all it brings. Hey, before you brand me as an pasty English curmudgeon (if the cap fits…) hear me out…
Ultimately all the seasons come weighed down (or buoyed-up?) with the baggage of times past. A huge mash-up of every emotion you’ve ever felt, linked to years passing and seen through the filter of season-specific memory which seems to magnify, distort and mythologise. It’s not as simple as nostalgia, but actually something much more potent.
Right now you’re probably either nodding your head in agreement or thinking, what the hell is he on about I just love the sun!?
Phantom Handshakes are Federica Tessano and Matt Sklar, they exist at a highly covetable intersection where dream pop, jangle and pure pop happily and, fairly seamlessly, collide. Difficult to do well, much easier to fail miserably, imagine a sliding scale where the Cocteau Twins are at the pinnacle, followed by the Sundays, maybe Lush and right at the negative end sit the Cranberries (sorry Cranberries fans). It’s probably also time to say – endless Cocteau Twins comparisons only go so far, let’s be honest no one REALLY sounds like them because no one can, so when I mention that holy name it’s in the broadest of senses, calling up some form of dreamily ethereal soundscape. One of the fundamental contradictions of the Cocteaus was that feeling of anxiety lurking just beneath the surface. They gave us so much more than pretty background muzak, something Phantom Handshakes also aspire to.
We enter Phantom Handshakes’ world with the slightly ominously titled, ‘I Worried,’ lyrics taken from a poem by Mary Oliver. And what a poem! The important part of that title is that it’s in the past tense. This is a song of catharsis, of shedding unhealthy behaviour and somehow learning not to fret about stuff that is far, far away from your control. So simple, but so, so hard.
I warn you now, you may just swoon within the first twenty seconds. Federica deftly turns a poem into a song with zero awkwardness and takes you into a seemingly unravelable tangle of self-doubt we can probably all identify with. If not then I envy you. After the questioning and confusion, the final emerging into the light is a beautiful release and feels key to the motivations behind this collection of songs.
Key phrase? ‘I gave it up…’ Listen and you will understand.
Even with some albums I truly love, I still find myself nursing a craving for just a few more uptempo songs, Phantom Handshakes have read my mind and are happy to oblige. No Better Plan races along on a snaking guitar riff as Federica pleads for a sign and dips deep into pop-lore for a totally justified, ‘na, na, na, na’ refrain to send ricocheting around your head.
Third track, This Shade is a languid stretch of a song, undulating guitar brushing against vocals that sing, and speak, (love that whispered sentence mid-song) of floating out to sea while a drum machine marks time and gently fuzzed chords melt into the infinite distance. Gorgeous simplicity.
Cricket Songs could be the hit single (in my head only, sadly) and is of course emphatically a summer song, suddenly you’re back to your teens, in your room sprawling on the bed, staring at weird patterns on the ceiling. It’s too hot to move, so what more can you do but listen to the crickets outside the window and try to understand your place in a mad world? Cricket Songs is your sweet soundtrack.
Other highlights? Maybe the shimmering hypnosis of All that Could Burn or perhaps the low-key dream haze of bittersweet closer Sweet Dry Raw. I don’t know, it’s pretty seamless.
Whatever the merits of the relevant season, No More Summer Songs is pure balm to calm and reassure your fevered mind. It resonates with me and may do the same for you if you let it. Music this good should not remain a secret.
No More Summer Songs will be released on April 30th and can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp with Z-Tapes.