I have been a fan of Julia Jacklin (lead vocals, guitar) for a while now, seeking her music out when needing to relax, wind down, or even have music to fall asleep to. When I was awoken to the existence of Phantastic Ferniture and her involvement with it from two separate friends on the same day, I jumped at the opportunity to review the album. Sounding more like a late night party than a lullaby, the Aussie supergroup Phantastic Ferniture fills rooms with swirling color and sound.
Fittingly, the band started in 2014 thanks to a party, the ritual of life that all grandiose ideas seem to get their spark. As quick as those ideas and plans we make at the height of our free flowing mindscapes can come about, they can just as quickly flame out, which seemed like it might be the case for Phan Fern. Through the years the project seemed to be shelved while it’s members stayed busy with other works; such as Jacklin’s critically lauded LP Don’t Let The Kids Win. Elizabeth Hughes (lead guitar, backing vocals) drew energy from Jacklin’s success and released her beautifully dark, twangy, and melancholic self titled EP in 2017. Ryan K Brennan (Drums, mixing) acting as producer and Mark Stephens (Bass) both had a hand in Jacklin & Hughes’ projects. In the 4 years since its inception, the group made sure to play together at least once a year, for their annual Christmas show. And now, the group’s self-titled LP is dropping July 27th.
These 9 songs act as beacons of light, guiding the listener on a series of summer night adventures. You can’t predict where you’ll go, what you’ll do, so you just go with the flow. Early in the record comes a contender for title of “Song Of The Summer”, ironic due to the fact that it is the dead of winter in Australia. “Fuckin ‘N’ Rollin” propels you down a two lane city street, the backway home, or maybe just the sidewalk to your favorite dive bar. It’s easy going and free, yet gnarly all the same. I can’t help feeling looser when greeted by Stephens’ opening baseline, only to perk up again with the introduction of Hughes’ guitar riff that that would make the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s swoon. All this said without mention of the wonderful fusion of the Jacklin & Hughes’ voices, suredly honed during their early careers days as the band Salta and uncovered at almost every turn of the album. Hughes’ refrain of “when you get back / when you get back” puts some wind in Jacklin’s wails, guiding the listener to a personal favorite of mine, “Bad Timing”. A song layered in the anxieties of being stuck in limbo and asking rhetorical questions as a way to tell you to love and live for yourself rather than wait for that someone to “set you free”.
A freeing feeling of self resilience is carried by Jacklin’s admittedly “simple and sexy” lyrics throughout the album, but really takes shape around the halfway mark with “Take It Off”. Hughes’ twangy blues guitar jumpstarts the song, giving me major Gary Clark Jr. vibes. Jacklin drives the song home with the almost haunting “I take my time // you take it off // I am the light beneath your door”. As the record progresses, you hit the dark and guttery anthem “I Need It”, led by Brennan’s precisely tight cymbals and toms – alongside yet another memorable guitar riff. The song is a playful diddy until it’s sail suddenly catches wind, wailing alongside Jacklin’s cries of “I don’t even bother // to call your name anymore // I refused to sing to the morning that // I need it” only to recede back to it’s calming and consistent ripple.
Many of the quotes I found from bandmates about the project noted it’s uniqueness and freeing quality. Hughes said it best in a press release about the album; “We wanted a low level of expertise, because a lot of good music comes from people whose passion exceeds their skill”. That passion hits it peak with “Dark Corner Dance Floor”, a jaunting fever pitch of energy and emotion. This song could blow the roof off of a long drive and careen you down a swirling waterfall all in the same breath. The frantic nature of the song pairs well with the duet of Jacklin’s bellowing “I just want to find a home” followed by the distorted, hyperspace sounding chant “all on my own” from Hughes.
There’s a confidence that radiates from these songs and their performers, blazing a trail of grooves in your hippocampus and pulsates throughout your brain waves. At first this feeling comes out as just a simple sway, perhaps a tap of the foot. Eventually these songs burrow themselves in you, rustling you out of your corner of comfort and complacency. All that being said, Phantastic Ferniture has solid footing as one of my favorite albums of 2018 that I urge anyone to sit with. Or groove with. However you’re moved to listen to it.