Shintaro Sakamoto (once of psych-garage band Yura Yura Teikoku) has produced a fine collection of shimmering smooth, gentle pop songs. Like Bryan Ferry in ’75, moving away from the overt noise and rock filth of Roxy Music, isn’t it often the case that when those with sharp minds come to drink at the font of smooth, well…that’s when things can get interesting.
How to Live with a Phantom has a fresh, flawless quality. Simply constructed, with minor amounts of layering, it revisits the jazz inflected guitar pop that charted in the mid 80’s – and if bands like The Blow Monkeys frighten you senseless, then this may not be for you. Beware, here be sax solos!
The vocals are where this elevated elevator muzak connects. Shintaro’s voice sounds warm and sincere, not insistent, teasing us along a sparkling pathway, the Japanese lyrics seeming to communicate a late afternoon languor. Ultimately, what this album communicates is an urbane ideal of city living, of mooching the streets as the shops shutter up, absorbing the city’s ennui.
It certainly recalls the sound of other supine sophisticates like the Cardigans, Tenniscoats and Pizzicato Five. But, by investing care into what can be a genre of bloated arrangements and fussy playing, it just gives you the sweet perfumed essence. As always, it’s the avenues it chooses not to take that makes it work. The guitar holds tight to its clean and lightly delayed sound, the drums are not that stupidly separated hi-fi confection, and the bass is rubbery but sidesteps the snap of the thumb slap.
Favourite easy listens here are In a Phantom Mood and You Just Decided, whilst A Stick and Slacks re-finds Can’s wiry funk. Casting its shadow from early morning to late afternoon, the album moves between the perfectly agreeable to the only slightly more challenging post-exotic. So a narrow range of expression, yet as an antidote to so much other grasping noise it provides a very welcome respite.