by Jeff Milo
Phantasmagoria have graduated, in a sense. It's coming up, sorta soon here, on a whole year since Metro Times dialed up the buzz on this local duo by giving them the cover page for their expansive Blowout cover. And, it feels like it's been a whole year (almost, in calendar days) that they've been steadily piecing together their first proper full length.
For their Spirit EP, (released just one month prior to said-cover shoot), Christopher Jarvis (who helms a galaxy of knobs, keys, mouse-pads and various devices of sonic alteration) was "just learning how to use the software...those were just the first songs I made." And, back in the autumn of 2010, the pair (Liannna Vanicelli is lead vocalist, and dabbles in percussion and keyboards), were only making the songs "...for fun."
It's been a year of growth and learning, Jarvis said. They've played some big shows, including the DIY Street Fair and a tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr; they've charmed with a slew of impressive covers, pairing unlikely selections of neo-folk-ish/Americana songs like Neutral Milk Hotel and Neil Young, and translating it into their own aesthetic of dazzlingly glitched-up, space-wrung/tribal-beat ambient-electronica. They've also bonded (and collaborated) with a range of bands, be they indie-soul/jazz quintet House Phone, to minimalist-pop trio Lightning Love, to hip/hop duo (and sometimes trio, sometimes quintet) Passalacqua.
Mostly, they've learned, as any band does after enough time: what works.
What works for them will be released early next year via their self-titled album. "We basically took all the elements from our first EP that we liked and expanded and improved on them, while also trying to cover some new ground and push ourselves."
Jarvis and Vanicelli, the two of them just over 40 years in combined age, consider this album to be their most formative experience, as musicians. "I've never worked on something so hard or put so much of myself into a project before," Jarvis said,"it's like a journal of the past year of our lives and we've learned and grown a lot in that year..."
For a band barely six months old with only one modest EP up online to get this magazine's cover might have invited backlash, bitter bites from blog commentators or fellow banders around town sniping at the swift spotlight shift. Not really...Interesting though, to think they were already prepared back in February, with Vanicelli's sublime, celestial voice cooing out shielding lyrics like "they hate what we made / we are not the same..." on the dizzying, bongo-bolstered dream-pop epic "Bats."
With the music scene evolving/accelerating/re-shifting, inch by inch, live, in real time on Facebook with every status update, new-show-invite and new bandcamp-post...band camaraderie seems to, somehow, to have flourished, however genuine or not. No detectable cover-backlash, heretofore. Jarvis and Vanicelli are still the same soft-spoken pair, charmingly timorous with an easygoing air. "Almost every band we've played with and everyone we've worked with has been really positive and encouraging. Everyone's feeding off each other's creative energy, its great."
"My friends are releasing albums that are so inspiring," Jarvis says. And while that's a quote one can clip from any generation's music scene, it should be noted that these fellow bands, these "friends" aren't necessarily drinking buddies meeting at regular water holes or fellow basement jammers, they're the online friends between whom a ricochet of song-idea soundboarding happens, demo tracks are sampled and swapped, remixes are arranged, all via the ubiquity of emails, or wall-comments or twitter trades.
Remixes happen fast out there, especially for Jarvis, who, with Vanicelli, recently reworked ambient-pop composer Jon Zott's stuff, (a guy who recently re-settled back in Michigan, after some time in New York). Beyond that, Jarvis has also reworked Passalacqua while the duo has taken on a song by local synth-pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr (the latter recently being named the #2 band, of 20, in Paste Magazine's Best New Bands of 2011).
Jarvis met Electric Six's keyboardist Christopher Tait through mutual friends last summer and the latter ended up checking out a few shows, quickly becoming a fan. By mid-autumn, Electric Six took a tour-only 7" on the road with them, featuring Phantasmagoria's remix of their "French Bacon" track off of the recent Heartbeats and Brainwaves.
As far as DEJJ, "they're one of our favorite bands in the whole world," Jarvis said. Thus, they lept at the opportunity to remix their song "Morning Thought," off of It's A Corporate World.
"Everything all the time..." Vanicelli belted out, her voice exceedingly more mellifluousand warm than Thom Yorke's, as they covered Radiohead's "Idioteque" in their most recent set. And maybe that's just what the year's felt like for Detroit's electro-heavy/acoustic-revering duo. Jarvis hints at some "super secret split 7" vinyl" paired with some other yet-unnamed band in early 2012, but aside from that, the plan is just to finish up the full length, release it and... "...just roll with whatever comes from that."
--Phantasmagoria plays in Toledo with Illy Mack, part of a FiveThreeDialTone hosted event. Saturday, 12/17, they play at Hamtramck's New Dodge Lounge, part of Atwater Brewery's benefit for the Michigan Anti-Cruelty Society, who work to protect stray and injured animals throughout the state. Joining Saturday's line up: I Love Lightning Bugs, Macrame Tiger, Dirty Channel, CN Pratt & the Rose Cult, the Wall Clocks, Amateur Anthropologist, The Blue Squares and the HandGrenades.