Review: Memory Drawings – “Phantom Lights”

Phantom Lights is the new mini-LP from sorta-post-rock-ish neo-classical ensemble Memory Drawings, out two weeks ago via the Greek boutique label Sound In Silence. But, truth be told, it’s not really a “new” record. The self-described “Anglo/American collective” actually first self-released the six-song offering as a limited-run, tour-only CD in 2018. But Sound In Silence is wise beyond belief and then some to push for a wider audience for the disc – following 2017’s The Nearest Exit, the group never has sounded this good.

The mini-LP’s title track is all you need to hear to absolutely be sold on this thing. Yes, Joel Hanson’s hammered dulcimer is beautiful, almost devastatingly emotive – at this point, doesn’t that go without saying? – but it’s Richard Adams’ careful, almost methodical notes on acoustic guitar that flesh out the emotional thrust of the delivery, buoyed by a pulsing bass and the rhythmic pitter-patter of Kyle Crabtree-esque percussion. (The violin on the song, no slouch, drones and hums perfectly in the background, its colors similar to a harmonium.) The song, phantom-like indeed, is instrumental only technically or in name; on the song, which runs a too-short 4:23, it’s the instruments that sing.

On closer “Captivated,” there are almost fairy-whistled vocals from a female frontwoman (assuming that’s violinist Sarah Kemp), but, here, I continue to be utterly taken with Hanson’s beguiling leads and, yes, Adams’ accompaniment. It’s as if Clogs, in its wondrous Lantern years, was recording a set of songs by early Pullman, the textured acoustics and longing giving way to grandiose gestures.

Elsewhere on the LP, the band (or, more appropriately, Barnaby Carter) gets creative and a little more abstract with atmosphere, offering a remix of “There Is A Last Time For Everything.” The band’s elements of charm are still there, sure, but Carter lines the song with lots of tricked-out reverb and ghost piano, to surprisingly good (if occasionally a little melodramatic) effect. The bewitching “Two Rooms,” with its Tin Hat implications, and opener “The Other Side,” which you surely will listen to on repeat, seal the deal: this is a keeper. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, Nov. 15, 2019

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