This statement sums it all up in Phantom Planet’s “Don’t Get Down”: “I want to live on the moon/ and never see a human again/And as the Earth explodes/ I’ll light a candle for my dead best friends.” For anyone who can reflect upon their teenage school days and see a kaleidoscope of daggers held by the likes of ex-flames, friends they thought were friends, or basically anyone who could say they had a reserved spot at a school lunch table — Phantom Planet’s Is Missing is a musical pharmaceutical of self-help resources for you.
This five-piece band residing in California has recently gotten media attention in part due to drummer Jason Schwartzman’s brilliant portrayal of a wannabe Ivy League intellectual geek in love with a classy British school teacher in Rushmore . Why it took this long for this young yet highly prolific and talented group of songwriters/musicians to get noticed puzzles and disturbs the mind, quite frankly. Not in quite some time have I seen teenage artists able to convert what appears to be entries out of a personal journal into meaningful lyrics and then infuse that with an incomparable sound that mixes Beatlesque pop harmonies, Brit-pop electronica, and primal grunge. The lyrics to “Recently Distressed” (“You see my wings are on the fritz/ and I can’t even get up off the ground/ I’m really sorry for this mess/ because it all came crashing down”) further illustrate how this band relays personal messages without becoming so deep and esoteric as to limit its understanding to just the songwriter.
Consisting of Darren Robinson (guitar), Jacques Brautbar (guitar, vocals), Alex Greenwald (lead vocals, guitar), Schwartzman (drums), and Sam Farrar (bass, vocals), Phantom Planet (whose name originates from a 1960s film about a planet filled with poisonous air) cleverly mix studio effects to their vocals, giving songs like “Don’t Get Down” a supernatural feel. In “Lisa (Does it Hurt You)?,” the addition of 1950s ballad baselines and early 1980s synthesizer progressions on the chorus combines great remnants of both generations of musical style.
I think anyone who listens to music tries to find some answer to all the good or bad experiences in their lives. A certain song tailor-made to help someone deal with the pain of the past gives that person a positive escape through music. Is Missing does just this without becoming too preachy or poetic. If allowed to grow with this release, the band will re-define once again what the music industry has so conveniently labeled alternative music by infiltrating musical influences from over four decades into a unique sound to carry itself into the next millennium.
Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069