One of the best. Dutch Surf legends The Phantom Four and 'Mandira' once again makes clear why! A Masterpiece.
The Treble Spankers were a huge influence when I first got into surf music, his solo album was brilliant, and the Phantom Four are one of my very favorite currently active surf bands. My favorite album of Frank's so far has been the Treble Spankers second full-length, "Hasheeda," but I do believe it has now been dethroned "Mandira" is the new favorite, it is really that good! It is an absolutely brilliant piece of work, truly genius. I loved the Phantom Four (studio) debut "Madhur"; I thought the follow-up "Morgana" was even better, and now "Mandira" has topped them all. I didn't think it was possible, but Frank, Niels and the rest of the boys have done it!
To my mind, two things truly set the Phantom Four apart from everybody else:
Frank's highly distinctive and original songwriting and guitar playing; and just as importantly,
2) the immense GROOVE of the band. Surf bands are not often known for their groove, but it is one of my favorite things about the Phantom Four.
Obviously their music often draws on exotic sources which feature those grooves, but the Phantom Four take it to the next level and make it distinctively their own while also always infusing it with at least a bit of the surf feel. That groove is on exhibit more than ever before on "Mandira". What also makes "Mandira" very interesting is the sheer diversity of sounds featured within. There are some songs that sound simply like the Phantom Four, with their distinctive mix of trad surf and exotic world music, primarily from north Africa, the Middle East and India. But they have a much greater Spanish/Mexican flair on this album than ever before, and also have songs with ska, reggae, Western, bossa nova and even Yiddish influences! It's a real cornucopia of world music, all mixed into an incredibly tasty surf stew! I'll go through some of the standout tracks for me (well, pretty much the entire album!)
Starts off with a strident, driving, syncopated riff, but once the simple but bold and proud melody line enters it transforms the song into a bullfighter's anthem. If you were to replace the guitars with the horns, to my ears it would sound like something played in a bullfighting movie. A very effective opener.
What a beautiful song! One of the highlights of the album packed with highlights, it's based on an exotic drum loop with some ethnic percussion on top, resulting in a very deep groove. With an acoustic rhythm guitar, Frank plays choppy, syncopated verses that resolve into gorgeous choruses. It's all fairly simple, but adds up to something much greater than the sum of its parts. NOBODY can pull off something like this except for the Phantom Four, and they absolutely excel at it! I just love this song!
Malabar #1 is a great song from "Madhur", and this is its sister song. It's got the identical deep, energetic groove that makes you move your shoulders AND your gluteus maximus! The melody is quite similar between the two songs, but #2 is even better, with once again a shiver-inducing chorus. Fantastic!
Tiempo de Revancha
We go into the Wild West with a song that could have been a theme to one of those classic westerns from the '50s. It sounds a bit like Los Relampagos version of "3:10 To Yuma"("El Tren De Las Tres Y Diez"). There are prominent Mexican/Spanish-sounding horns on this track, which interestingly were not there on the pre-album version of this song (released as part of the North Sea Surf Radio fundraiser). The horns sound great and really give distinction to this track, but I must admit that I still slightly prefer the non-horn, all-guitar version. Good luck to any trumpet player in matching Frank's beautiful touch and phrasing. (The horn version reminds me even more of the New World Relampagos version of this song, which also features Mexican-sounding horns.)
The Phantom Four out-Yiddish Meshugga Beach Party on this one! Well, they try, it's at least a draw! This is a highly energetic song that really makes you want to move! A traditional Jewish-sounding melody is spiced up with some synchronized shouts (mixed so high that the first few times I listened to the song on my iPod it scared the crap out of me, I thought somebody was shouting at me from behind!). An amazing and highly effective arrangement, extremely tight playing, it all adds up to absolute perfection! Another winner!
The least traditional song on "Mandira", it harkens back to Frank's solo album, based on more of an electronica rather than band arrangement. A mood piece revolving around drum and other loops, with a gorgeous repeating lap-steel part and the main melody played on some sort of Arabic wind instrument. Can't tell if some of the sounds are synths or simply processed (backwards and/or highly effected) guitars or other instruments. The first few times I heard this track it didn?t leave much of an impression, but then I started noticing all the little details provided by the exotic percussion and the amazing atmosphere created through the interaction of all the instruments. The track started slowly revealing itself. I don't think this is the most immediate track it's a grower but my God, now I think it's absolutely stunning! All the TONES are just wonderful, too, so warm and embracing, no harshness anywhere.
As the name implies, this is a take-off on Fender IV's -"Margaya", which Frank often performed live with both of his bands, I believe. The verse is based on a very similar riff and main melody, but Frank adds an incredible chorus that takes the song to a completely different and very, very good place!
Once again, another highlight in an album of highlights! Montego Bay is a town in Jamaica, the title befitting this song based around ska rhythms. It has a very sunny, cheery melody, backed with a bouncy bass and choppy acoustic guitar. The melody is simple but gorgeous, going into a very effective arpeggiated bridge part, and then repeating. The song just takes off the second time it reaches the bridge. Frank starts extending the arpeggiated chords, varying and building on them, taking the melody up, up, up and away, while the band slowly builds up the intensity underneath him. Goose bumps inevitably follow (seriously, I get them each time I hear this!). I love, LOVE this song!
The closing track of the album, and a bit of an epic, at five and a half minutes. Like the amazing "Samira" on the Treble Spankers album "Hasheeda", which combined a Bo Diddley rhythm with an Arabic singer, this song bridges two fairly different worlds in this case, we have a signature north-African-inspired Phantom Four track but with a female singer singing in what to me sounds like Portuguese, with inflections and phrasing based on Brazilian bossa nova music. (That's how it sounds to my ears I would love to get Niels? clarification on this, if that is indeed what?s going on here.) At first I thought it was just weird, and it didn?t appeal very much. But the third time I heard it, something just clicked, and now I can?t get enough of it! The way the singer bends certain notes, certain ahhs, it just melts me. Frank wraps it all up with some extended improvising while the singer is whispering in the background, bringing this absolutely stunning album to a close in a highly effective and appropriate fashion!
This album is a masterpiece. Not only is the quality of the music out of this world, but the production is exceptional, all the instruments sounding big, full, warm and fitting in perfectly with all the other instruments. A truly exemplary sound quality. I really cannot recommend "Mandira" highly enough.
Label: Green Cookie
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