I’m the last person to slap an ‘indie’ label on everything, however the lackadaisical attitude surrounding ‘Phantastic Ferniture’ suits the independent release model perfectly; and whatever that label actually means, this is nothing but ‘indie rock’. Julia Jacklin, Elizabeth Hughes, Ryan K Brennan & Tom Stephens as PhanFern have cruised through 4 years of being an underground band, with a dedicated Sydney following helping along the tradition of ‘Phantastic Ferniture’s Christmas Extravaganza’, their first and what was thought to be final gig was obviously successful enough to now become a seasonal event. Barely bothering with any official releases previously, a couple of self recordings had sprouted, however since the band seemingly got serious about cultivating a full album, these recordings have been fertilised a bit with some studio time and released with videos to match. With each member occupying a plot in the group they have no experience with previously (e.g. Julia fronting only with vocals as opposed to holding a guitar), they have taken on a lo-fi nearly amateurish sound that is rooted their melancholic party vibes.
Compositionally the entire album is made up of very simple variations on the same guitar, bass, drums and vocals, all very reminiscent of teenaged garage experimentation on the simplest of pop and rock formulas. Because of this, many similarities between songs can be found; ‘Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin’ and ‘Gap Year’ feature very similar switchups at almost exactly the same point near the end, ‘Take It Off’ and ‘I Need It’ both have near identical sleazy guitar loops, Julia gives gratuitous wails in I think every song, and so on. There are just enough unique little seeds spread about to keep things interesting; ‘I Need It’ with a couple of disoriented jolting pauses, ‘Dark Corner Dance Floor’ with unintelligible off beat backing vocals, ‘Gap Year’ has a neat if basic guitar solo. Considering the band was formed as a drunken pact, with songs practiced in the car park outside the venue on the way into the first gig; the point was to not have to take it too seriously; take a drive with the windows down and the album up, the sometimes repetitive formula suddenly doesn’t matter as much.
Despite the simplicity some small influence shines through, the intro to ‘Mumma Y Papa’ could be straight from a 90s Radiohead song, and Grimes is another artist who often shares a somewhat drenched vocal production style.
“I think still to this day when I listen to this record and the music we made, it doesn’t sound like any of us,” adds Jacklin. “This doesn’t sound like anything that we listen to.” – Julia for ToneDeaf
Considering Julia likes both of those artists I may indeed be bias in trying to spot them as influences, but all three do share dense aetherial soundscapes, as if recorded inside a greenhouse. Consequently sometimes there isn’t much space to breath, it feels like in places an open sunny garden should be traded for the rainforest of reverb canopies, withal at only 35 minutes and no filler, it isn’t exactly suffocating to get through the whole thing in one sitting.
When you can pick the lyrics out of the soundscape, they tend to take on a similar attitude as the band itself. All with wistful nostalgia: introspection, emotional learning and past relationships are explored, however you can pretty much get by with how they sound, not necessarily having to focus on what is being said; as no really clear pictures are vegetated anyway. Though it is definitely worth taking a look at the lyrics written down, as to help revel in the sen(tree)mental young adult wanderment.
“We started this band about four years ago, very spontaneously, as a way to have some fun outside of our more serious solo projects” – Julia for Triple J
Maybe not the most bold, experimental or creative album this year, ‘Phantastic Ferniture’ is a blossom in the Fall of two monumental months worth of albums; looking through my playlist of favourite 2018 releases, this one shares very little with the rest, and to me, sits in the light above most or all. Ranked among chart toppers, harsh experimentalism, meaningful & political statements, and turnt up bangers; ‘Phantastic Ferniture’ is a cool shady oasis, one of the few who only cares about not caring. This is a band that would put the lamest of puns right in their name and self publish an album on the brightest pink vinyl, and yet have received opposition for dressing down at shows and not taking themselves seriously enough. When the objective here is more fun and less care, its hard to fault it without considering that perhaps its you that cares too much, rather than the band that cares too little.
“This band is unlike anything else we’ve ever done so there’s no rules. It feels like we just have to let go and let it take us where it wants to go” – Elizabeth Hughes
Edit 13/08/18: Having now received and listened to the album on vinyl, I can report this is one of few instances where the vinyl copy/mix sounds noticeably better than digital. A lot of muddiness is gone from the vocals, and bass seems a lot more clear and isolated.