Review Summary: Gold Key give a spectacular debut performance, a blend of dark, grand, groovy alt-rock.
I first heard Gold Key as a support band for Arcane Roots in October 2017, and was instantly enthralled by their odd, slightly psychedelic alt-rock. Their music transferred spectacularly to a live performance, but for a while I had the fear that their recorded music wouldn’t sound anywhere near as good, after being severely disappointed by a few bands’ production and style when I finally got around to listening to their records. Hello, Phantom
was a surprising listen, and I enjoyed it throughout.
When I say their music transferred well, I listened to their recorded music and could still picture them playing it live. The album has a personal favourite of quite raw-sounding production. A track that matched the live performance especially well was the lead track. “Creep in Slowly” starts with a single repeated note on the bass, before filling your head with a high-pitched and slightly creepy sounding synth-guitar sting, drums, and a few other things as well. It has a syncopated feel, but isn’t overly complex. Steve Sears boasts an excellent falsetto and strong vocals in other regards, half shouting when needed.
Tracks like “The Shape” and “Hello, Phantom” show the more airy, atmospheric side of the band. The former starts with an interesting drum beat and is more minimalist than the lead track, before bursting into a very memorable chorus, one I always end up going around my head for ages after listening. Lyrics of “Well, the space don’t fill the void/Like it used to/And my face don’t feel the same/As it used to.” It conveys the story well, and outro “The whole galaxy surrounds us now” is beautifully done to actually feel like it’s surrounding you. Jack Kenny gives an excellent drum performance, never being technical for the sake of being technical. The latter track is much more atmospheric throughout, with a repeated and reverbed riff through the verses, and space-like, melodic guitar backing in the chorus. This is all held up by an accented drum beat, mostly focussing on the ride. Sears gives yet another outstanding vocal performance, a slightly despairing tone that appears commonly throughout the album, seen mostly in the chorus here.
Some of the other tracks have a much more obvious groove. “Crab Traps” has offbeat hi-hats and a simple drum beat that pulls you through the track, helped by the catchy hook and guitar riff. Conclusion “Fall Through the Middle” has a clear groove, but maintains their dark vibe through the lyrics “Walk us through the new regime/Can throw us from the tower” and some of the more subtle instrumental work. “Juvenoia” is abrasive sometimes when I listen to it, but pulls off what it does well, with tom-oriented drums and more melody on the guitar, which compliment Sears’ vocals. The lyrics themselves are a tired subject, making fun of the people who say “kids these days”. That being said, I think they pulled off the subject without sounding too
cringey about it (although there is a degree of it, most definitely). “Kerosene” is most definitely abrasive, at least to me. The distortion seems overused here, affecting the vocals. There is also an occasionally mosquito-like sound that appears in the right every once in a while, which only serves to detract from the song.
There are some points where Gold Key give a more progressive/rock style. “Sneaker” has a beautiful build-up to the chorus, slowly building up the repeated descending arpeggio on the guitar, and a riff on the bass that puts Sikth bassist James Leach to use, before a second half that is heavy and a perfect digression from the groove of “Crab Traps” beforehand. It’s an impressive track, one of the best here. “Hatched Down” is the most progressive track here. The introduction would not sound out of place on a Pink Floyd record. The riff is memorable and in keeping with the style of whole album, while Sears gives a grand and impressive vocal performance, able to keep above the epic scale after the relatively quiet introduction. All the musicians have time to strut their stuff, Sears and Laurent Barnard doing excellently on guitars with backup from the bass and drums. Unfortunately, at four-minutes-thirty it feels much too short, ending abruptly. I would not have complained about another two minutes to really go to town on the ideas going on here.
“Explode” serves as a brilliant example of the bands’ style, starting with echoed drum machine work, subtly added bass, a brilliant chorus before exploding (see what I did there?) into a dramatic rock track, Muse-like riffs on the guitars, and harsher vocals over the top (not full-on harsh, mind you). It’s one of the best tracks on the album, showcasing everything they have to offer in a succinct four minutes.
I think a debut album often serves as a kickboard for a band, giving people a taste at all that they can do. Hello, Phantom
is most definitely that for Gold key. Alternative rock is a subgenre as wide as it is deep: sometimes bands get lost, and this group span enough of the gap to avoid sinking right to the bottom. Whether you appreciate more moody songs, such as “Sneaker”, large-scale ones like “Hatches Down” or “Explode”, or are more into a groove like those in “Juvenoia” or “Crap Traps”, there’s a lot here to pick from. Gold Key could go in any number of directions from this debut, and honestly? I don’t care which. They will almost certainly do it well.