Review Summary: Phantom Punch is edgy and aggressive but still refined, cohesive, and catchy.
I look at Sondre Lerche’s musical career as a boxing match. For all these years, he’s been throwing small, effective jabs at us that hinted towards his musical talent and lyrical sophistication. To this point, his songs have been lush, easygoing pop songs, like Sondre taking it easy around the ring. With Phantom Punch, it’s the final round and Sondre is coming out swinging. His latest album takes a much more aggressive approach. He leaves no room for subtlety and puts a barebones, stripped-down spin on his music. With everything in plain view, Phantom Punch is Sondre’s most effective album yet.
Where Two Way Monologue had a lush pop sound not too far from Sufjan Stevens and Duper Sessions took a jazzy spin on his sound, Phantom Punch is early Beatles-esque rock with an ever-present jazzy touch from the chordal structure and grooves. Despite the simpler instrumentation, just Sondre and his backing band Faces Down, the album sounds louder and bigger than any of his other efforts. While the new sound works perfectly and opens new doors for Sondre, the true decisive factor for Phantom Punch is what Sondre kept from his previous albums. His intelligent, witty lyrics stay instead of pairing his rock music with simple, anthemic prose, and his songs sound different from everyone else’s simply because he writes with a jazz composer’s mind, making effective use of a dominant seventh when he has the chance. Furthermore, Sondre keeps the album clean. The distortion and uptempo grooves still sound cohesive and locked in. Title track Phantom Punch
is one of the heavier, more distorted songs on the album. With the nostalgic guitar riff ripped straight out of 1970s rock, the song grooves more than anything else. At the culminating chorus, another guitar screams high and above everything, propelling the song forward and maxing out the EQ on the recording. Still, this provides the greatest example of the cohesiveness that Sondre and his band possess. The loudest parts of the album actually groove the best.
Not every song relies on loud, screaming grooves, however. Sondre maintains his pop sensibilities and most of the album relies on pop hooks. Airport Taxi Reception
’s sweet, sonorous melodies are some of the catchiest on the album. Exploring the full range of his voice, Sondre sings unabashed, soaring melodies with impeccable diction on his lyrics. Airport Taxi Reception
presents the album’s stripped down, simple instrumentation perfectly, with acoustic guitar putting down the main chord progression while a lead electric plays melody in the louder parts of the song. The bass and drum groove sounds ready to break into a bossanova at any point. The acoustic guitar takes an important role on the album, often bringing cleanliness to the rest of the band’s distorted, aggressive style. Sondre makes use of it in fullest form on Tragic Mirror
and After All
. Tragic Mirror
is the album’s ballad, and it sounds like a blueprint for a song that might feature string arrangements on Two Way Monologue. Showing a musical maturity, Sondre realizes that the simplicity of the song as is makes it all the better. Lyrically, Tragic Mirror
describes a self-righteous man who looks confident on the outside but inside, he’s about to fall apart. He makes use of repetition and parallelism heavily, telling the story bluntly and hardly using any metaphor or figurative language.
In all ways, Tragic Mirror
is an anomaly on Phantom Punch. The least energetic song on the album, it provides variety and a change of pace from the uptempo style of Phantom Punch. Sondre often makes use of metaphors and sings about love in his lyrics, but Tragic Mirror
also provides variety in that manner. Matching the style of his music, the lyrics are often more aggressive and commanding, as seen on Face the Blood
. Appearing just after Tragic Mirror
, Face the Blood
begins aggressively with a huge, fast riff that surprises the listener just seconds after the lush ending chord of its predecessor. It highlights the short, fast style of the album well. Phantom Punch is only a 39-minute album, but in it, Sondre Lerche presents all kinds of musical ideas in a swift maneuver, from the pop hooks that dominate the first half of the album to the epic Happy Birthday Girl
that could be Sondre’s take on post rock. Overall, Phantom Punch is slightly top-heavy, but it does not possess any bad songs. It is a masterpiece of edgy, pop-infused rock composed with intelligence.