Throughout their near-decade of existence, Phantods have been defined by sonic schizophrenia, so it was somewhat surprising to hear them throwing around words like "structure," "focus" and "cohesive" during an interview last week.
But sure enough, the art-metal quartet's new EP, Revival, finds them trimming the fat and curbing some of their more outlandish impulses.
"All our old stuff was a lot like my brain," singer Gretchen King explained. "It just went all over the place."
The four songs on Revival are still unmistakably Phantods. Each track is painted in dark shades, sewn together with nimble rhythmic tricks and led by King's doe-eyed but devious siren call. But they also exhibit a level of streamlining and self-editing that rarely reared its head before.
"We did try to simplify just a little bit," guitarist Daniel Hagquist said, "but we wanted to maintain the weird kind of kookiness of our first record at the same time."
The goal was not to tame Phantods' twisting musical funhouse, but rather to channel its force into more potent bursts. The group often would toss bizarre tangents into their music for weirdness' sake, but now their mantra has become "serve the song." They've chosen to indulge their taste for variety by exploring different ideas on a song-by-song basis rather than jumping around so much within each composition.
"It felt like a natural thing to do," Hagquist said. "We felt like we kind of explored the genre-skipping thing."
Instead, they present fully formed ideas like "Wolf," a power ballad of sorts, and "Missed the Boat," a Freddie Mercury-inspired choral rocker - fitting, given that Phantods will share a bill with Queen cover band Mrs. Fahrenheit and the Loverboys at the Revival release show.
The sharpened songwriting focus is part of Phantods' intensified effort to break out of the "local band" bubble. They joked that ever since they got their dry-erase board, they've been productive and on-task, but there's some grain of truth in there.
The board, sitting on the mantle in Hagquist's North Campus house, was filled with an ambitious to-do list including printing business cards and booking shows in cities like Chicago, Boston, New York and Nashville.
They've begun to expand their range a bit with shows around Ohio and a mini-tour through Pennsylvania, allowing the group a sense of freedom to go out on a limb in front of audiences that might never see them again. They hope Friday's release party, their first Columbus gig in six months, will show off a new and improved stage presence.
"I'm not such a stiff up there," King said.
The show will undoubtedly exhibit a band in the midst of altering its trajectory, ever so slightly.
"I feel like we're evolving, but it doesn't feel so extreme to me," King said. "It's just natural."
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