What do you get when you mix elements of Weezer, The Beach Boys, mewithoutYou and Starflyer 59 with a touch of 80s new wave and maybe a slight hint of dreampop? The result is Phantom Limb’s latest release, Pastoral.
The album is best assessed when listened to as a singular effort from start to finish. While individual tracks do hold their own they do not paint the full scope that the album does as a whole cohesive unit. There are some (very) minor flaws scattered within the album, but they only seem to add to the overall audible ambience interwoven from track to track.
The album opens with “Pastoral I.” This is more of an intro than an actual track and lays the groundwork of some of the “fillers” on the album as it is riddled with sound bytes/clips that become part of the album’s narrative. The album truly opens with “In Death” which carries some elements of mewithoutYou’s later work with a touch of dreampop laced throughout. It’s a solid upbeat opener that slides fluidly into another “filler” track with “Maddog (In Eb).”
“Larry’s Theme” slows things down a bit, but has a very heavy Beach Boys vibe to it that it seems to play into and gives it it’s own unique spin. This is followed by “Guppy,” the album’s lead single (an interesting choice) and is the album’s shortest track (aside from the filler’s) clocking in at just 1:46. It’s ending seem kind of abrupt, but flows well into the opening of “Dumbo Returns.”
The second half of the album starts with another (the last) “filler” track with “Still Ruling the Room (Vince Foster).” While the fillers do add to the overall album, this one is easily the weakest (and one of the minor flaws I mentioned before). We then move in to “Shave Your Head.” This track (the latest single) is very heavy on the 80s new wave vibe and causes it to be a highlight and standout track on the album as it both catchy and memorable. “Trebek” follows with it’s strong shoegaze sound that is reminiscent of Starflyer 59’s album Everybody Makes Mistakes.
“Hobby Lobby” begins our descent into the final act of the album and if you listen closely you can hear a very familiar Weezeresque tune in the background. “Hobby Lobby” is the longest track on the album at a runtime of 7:08, but it does not feel like it runs as long as it does. It’s a light, airy track that is easy to find yourself getting immersed in. “Twins” picks the tempo back up (and revisits that Starflyer 59 shoegaze sound, but with a bit more pop) and carries the album solidly to it’s final track, “Pastoral II.”
“Pastoral II” rounds out the album as it part song and part “filler” in the perfect culmination of what we have experienced from the album up to this point.
Overall, the album is an amazing piece of art musically and paints a unique audible aesthetic that I have not experienced with any other album released this year. With it’s November release it may be overlooked on some best of lists for the year, but it easily has made it’s way on to mine.