Review Summary: Phantasia is an exciting success that isn’t narcissistically drawn into its own virtuosity, giving the ambiguous 'math-rock' more substance than before
Often musicians who venture into the realm of experimentation fall short of the rudimentary aesthetics of what makes music so appealing to the masses. It seems that the inanely labeled ‘math rock’ bands fall into this unforeseeable trap. The mechanical rhythms, repetitive and syncopated guitar lines, and bass lines often lack much of the excitement that is needed to allow any sort of distinctive and redeemable qualities. To put it straight – it just isn’t fun to listen to. However, lately there have been a few bands emerging from unlikely locales to inject more fun and energy into this process of instrumental experimentation. The UK’s Foals are an example of a band that adds catchiness and an anthemic quality to this brand of rock and roll. Japan’s LITE is the newest of bands to reveal themselves to the world, a band that has been able to combine all of the elements of bands beginning from Minus the Bear and ending at their Japanese counterparts Envy, all without saying even a word. LITE’s Phantasia
is an exciting success that isn’t narcissistically drawn into its own virtuosity and is able to inject some new life into a ‘supposed’ genre and giving the ambiguous ‘math-rock’ more substance than before.
Almost immediately as soon as the opening “Ef” heads out of the starting gate with anger and intensity, it is already apparent that LITE is talented in every sense of the word as all of the instruments are all integrated perfectly; finding room to allow every instrument audible in all its glory. Still, LITE is not trying to re-invent the wheel in any sort of way; it is their mission to perfect the style it creates. Every instrument is taken to its edge often creating a frantic and haphazard feeling that makes the music seem sloppy. This should not be mistaken as sloppiness; instead it should be seen as over-the-top virtuosity to the point that the arrangements are on the verge of collapse, in a way that is nothing but violently riveting. Shards of brilliance can be seen on the lengthier “Shinkai” which exhibits a penchant for good song-writing when a single note is strummed to create a brooding atmosphere before it unfolds into a raucous display that is technical, virtuous but also very hard-hitting. The following “Black and White” shifts tempos quickly from a frantic rhythm to a slow and meditative one. At points the band is able to sound like more languid and contemplative acts and this is an added strength that adds to the myriad of ideas on Phantasia
. The aforementioned over-the-top virtuosity is also ambivalent to the success of Phantasia
as an overall record; though it showcases the band’s impressive musicianship, it also enters the territory of becoming masturbatory in its execution. These moments become dizzying to the listener to the point where it almost becomes cacophony and unnecessary.
Luckily, this is more of the exception rather than the rule, as stated above. Ultimately, the key factor to Phantasia’s
outstanding success is its ability to mend the catharsis of post-rock, a dancy and fun quality of other bands, and the skill and virtuosity of math-rock, and to make it cohesive and fresh all the same. The title track is a perfect dance tune that could easily become a crowd pleaser. The aptly titled “Interlude” is a beautiful bridge that is serene and fits its purpose. The highlight track here is “Solitude” that perfectly encapsulates LITE’s numerous influences that are permeated throughout Phantasia
. The catharsis is built slowly, with restraint as the LITE suddenly rushes out of the gate with skilful instrumentation that is wonderfully arranged and calculated, without seeming that way. Often throughout Phantasia the music floats to a level of power where the arrangements are pleading for some sort of vocalization or hook to take them to the next level. The voiceless nature of Phantasia is a detrimental factor in the record’s ability to be poignant in the minds of the listener.
The arguments made against Phantasia
may also be their distinctive quality, in that it subversively negates these very conventions and for that it is an achievement. I am sure that LITE are more than happy than leaving these questions unanswered. So, in vain, I will be left provide my own answers. Perhaps the band eschews the use of vocals to create a universal quality not available in most instrumental records? Perhaps the arrangements are over-the-top because their inherent effect is there? Ah well, it is difficult to answer these subjective questions, so it is better to just enjoy Phantasia for what it is. And what the record is just an excellent instrumental record that is able to be distinctive in its own way; no questions asked.