[GARAGE-Y GRRRL ROCK] You know rock music's gotten complicated when something classic-sounding strikes you as more innovative than something, well, truly innovative. But that's exactly the reaction Phantom Lights' new 10-inch, Chordae Tendinae, elicits, and its vinyl-only issuing only strengthens the sentiment. As exciting (and intriguing) as it is to hear a noise or experimental artist toy with nontraditional instruments, beats and sounds to create something completely new, it's often equally satisfying to hear a new band evoke an old nostalgia.
Chordae Tendinae, the Lights' first release, easily takes you back. But the record, and the band, creates a very specific brand of nostalgia. Thanks to its riot-grrrl sound and all-female makeup, Phantom Lights—Manisone Ratts, Amy Sabin and the Hunches' Sarah Epstein—is most commonly compared to Sleater-Kinney. But the lo-fi, gritty quality of Chordae Tendinae's recording and the straightforwardness of its two-to-three minute songs is more comparable to Heavens to Betsy, S-K frontwoman Corin Tucker's first band. What makes the Phantom Lights unique is each woman's equal importance to the group. The three members alternate between vocals and instruments on each song, which (surprisingly) ceases to be a distraction during the live show. And on Chordae Tendinae, the variation makes for a more eclectic listen—demanding your attention throughout.
You can't help but be captivated as the record moves from Epstein's low, lispy voice on opening track "Birds" to Ratts' higher-pitched shriek (in the vein of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre founder Kathleen Hanna) on "After the War." Side A finishes with "Dos Locos," which features Sabin repeatedly shouting, "All you ever wanted was your mind!" and you can only imagine how strong the song must be live, fueled by a sweaty crowd pumping its fists. Of course, working off a standard formula can have its downfalls, and side B's pleasantly poppy opener, "See You Around," is ultimately forgettable. The drone-y surf rhythm of "I Love You," on the other hand, borrows from rock archetypes to achieve a perfect soundtrack for the hot, lazy days of summer.
Are the Phantom Lights changing the face of music as we know it? Well, no. But Chordae Tendinae serves a very specific and special purpose: It makes you want to rock out, pretending to play guitar in the privacy of your bedroom just like you're a 14-year-old girl again. And believe me, it feels really fucking good. .