In his onscreen incarnation, Rushmore’s dork king Jason Schwartzman got to be the president of the Debate Society and the founder of the Bee Keepers Club. In real life, he gets to play drums for the sunny post-grunge band Phantom Planet. The band’s new label, Epic, has dolled up the fivesome in worn denim and messy hair, plopped them on a sidewalk stoop and photographed them in black and white for an album cover worthy of The Strokes. And why not? If that band can make it big with throwbacks to punk’s heyday and a hype campaign to embarrass the Y2K virus, why can’t Phantom Planet be the next group to jump on the “saving rock” bandwagon?
But listen to “California,” the album’s opening road anthem, replete with shimmering guitars and a fist-waving chorus, and you get the sense the band is just out to have some fun and score some chicks. In contrast to the Strokes edgy “Hard To Explain,” Alex Greenwald’s surfer-dude wail sounds most comfortable singing, “I’ll try for one ray of sunlight to hold in my hand/ Maybe we can be happy again.” There is nothing too sophisticated in their arrangements and lyrics, which are reminiscent of Weezer in sound but not in substance. Their lyrical irony extends no farther than their ’60s sci-fi movie moniker. They are not phantasmal, and they aren’t so much a dark planet as a happy, shining sun.
Such sunny enthusiasm pushes the album smoothly and gleefully from unrequited love odes (“Always On My Mind”) to breakup-makeup ballads (“All Over Again”) to the sing-along rocker “Anthem,” but no farther. With the exception of the richer, more imaginative musicality the band hints at with “Turn Smile Shift Repeat,”—the album’s best song—it’s all fun sugary stuff, easy to listen to but also easy to forget. Without the production wizardry, the star power, and the hype machine behind them on The Guest, Phantom Planet might have been just another unknown garage band with big dreams. Now they’ve got our attention, hopefully; they can learn to hold it.
––Alexander L. Pasternack
Built From Scratch
The world-famous NYC turntablist quartet X-Ecutioners returns to the public consciousness with a bang. Easily the most eagerly anticipated album of its ilk in years, Built From Scratch makes an ambitious attempt to bring the hip-hop DJ, long eclipsed by egocentric emcees, back to the spotlight.
The music signals a return to hip-hop’s roots, situating the fringe art of turntablism within a more immediate song-based context. For the most part, this yields fabulous results. The first four tracks are unstoppable. After a dizzying intro, rapper Large Professor spits raw battle salvos over spine-cracking drums and a sick guitar lick on “XL,” followed by a whirling display of beat juggling and a multi-movement beatbox piece. The guest emcees are also a major step up from their previous album, featuring the inimitable Biz Markie on a Tom Tom Club remake, and the combined verbal torrent of Pharoahe Monch, Xzibit and Inspectah Deck on “The X.” Even everyone’s favorite loudmouthed thugs, M.O.P., show up yelling belligerent nonsense on “Let It Bang.”