Phantom Letters

Annique Monet

Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Who would have thought to mix the sound of The Cocteau Twins with Tom Waits? This fascinating blend is perhaps the best way to describe Annique Monet’s debut album, Phantom Letters. Having previously worked with the Brooklyn-based band Worthless, Monet retains a bit of the reverb-heavy psychedelic sound of that band, but her musical vision is more original and compelling. It possesses a haunting beauty throughout, a heady mix of beautiful melodies and ethereal arrangement.

There is multifaceted sophistication to the arrangements that demonstrates a songwriting capability that extends beyond simple melody-and-chords, often using harmonized vocals and countermelody against unusual minor-key chord progressions (as on the title track, “Phantom Letters”).  Most of the songs are built around the swirling sound of a calliope steam organ sound, an instrument that is often associated with old time carnival music. Even with rather sparse arrangements consisting of keyboards, guitar, and bass, she manages to achieve a full and rich sound.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album opens with “Salt, Veruca,” using a simple electric keyboard theme that slowly adds additional elements to the song in the form swelling synthesizers and the almost-chanted vocals. From there, the songs advances into darker territory, with layered sound effects. This simple opening keyboard line unassumingly leads the listener into the song, but it quickly moves into an array of sounds that will feature prominently throughout the album, serving as a good preview of what’s to come.

Things get darker and more interesting on the next track, “Voodoo.” Monet plays the chanteuse, adding the odd time-signature break in the midst of the song, complete with strange background sound effects (an homage to Ween’s “Voodoo Lady?”) Things take a brighter turn on “Turtlenecks In July,” which features a sweet, soaring harmonized vocal melody over the keyboard/organ/bass groove. The dream pop sound continues in the following track “52” before returning to the noir-psychedelic calliope tropes. The album closes with a bolero, titled “Unchange.” Each verse of the song is followed by a flamenco-style passage, closing the album with sophistication and style. 

While the vocals are heavily layered with reverb, her singing is very good. She is confidently in command of her interesting and occasionally challenging material. The calliope organ, which serves as the centerpiece of the album, is used to great effect. It pairs well with her breathy, multi-tracked vocals, which careen between the noir stylings of old horror movies and lush dream pop. This is a promising debut from a distinctive and talented new solo artist.

Rating: A-

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