Phantoms Fill The Sky is a collection of folk-rock and ghostly murder ballads from Tonya Gilmore. At its strongest, the album shows off some fantastic production and some stark lyrics and emotions.
“Pitchfork and a Torch” is a descending minor groove with some flange cymbal hits and skank guitar. Some overdriven electric piano adds some nice drive to the song, which along with a strong vocal delivery makes for a great bluesy song. “Brittle Bones” is a soulful gorgeous ballad with brushed snare drum, a plaintive organ, bowed saw and some eerie ghost-like harmony vocals. A synth-y bottom end adds to Lanois-esque swampy ambience, giving a great sense of mystery. The drummer shows a great sense of restraint and momentum on this track, moving the tension back and forth by adding clicks on the hi-hat and taking them away.
“Flattened Out” is based around a rolling piano progression and sounds like Fiona Apple writing a White-Album-era Beatles song. Gilmore’s vocal is full of emotion and vibrato and weaves its way in and out of the band in a very smart way. “Sirens” finds Gilmore playing the title character vocally at times over large electric power chords while “Den of Wolves” has a head bobbing beat and a great tambourine addition to the chorus, while the verse finds itself navigating through a “Don’t Let Me Misunderstood” chord progression.
“Exorcise and Plenty of Sleep” is a beautiful mixture of cello, Jon Brion-ish piano and saw that joins in behind sinister harmony vocals. The propulsion of the piano with its motoric timing works very well by allowing the more airy open instruments (including the voices) to swirl around like the ghosts that are mentioned in the lyric. “Prism” has a Tom Waits-like backdrop of twang-y banjo-like strings and junkyard metallic effects making up a minor-chord folk song. It works as a haunting ballad with tension-building saws and organ-like vocal pads holding steady against the trudge of the chord progression.
One of the most interesting songs “Ink” is a battle of lush piano and strings against an insistent rapid percussive intrusion. Musically it can be a bit discordant but it fits the lyric and overall sentiment of the song and is an interesting addition, revealing the contrast between the beauty and harshness that is referenced.
Not all of the songs work as successfully, however. “A Million” is a slow burn of a build with open fuzzed out guitar chords, swimmy acoustics, chiming electric piano and a clean vocal pushing through the middle which all work well, but it gets a little busy and messy when the chorus comes in with multiple percussive elements competing for the downbeat and losing some of the power that was initially implied by the openness of the verse. “Casino Night” has a pretty melody and a nice openness to the production but as a song tends to meander and sit in the same space. “Werewolf” has some good energy from the vocals but rhythmically is a bit of a mess, the guitar, piano and drums never quite locking in together, which pull away from the song. “Gun” is based around a piano, synth like vocals and snare drum rolls mimicking a pseudo-march from time to time. Unfortunately, some of the hits and rolls don’t line up during the verse and lose some of what could be the militaristic intention.
In contrast, “Before I Begin” uses the march motif much more successfully with crisp drum rolls that move the song forward along with some rhythmic child-like vocals that punctuate the ends of each line in the verse.
“The Black and the White of It” is a gorgeous piano ballad that concludes the album, and is also the best song in the collection. Again, the rhythmic accuracy drives the song without crowding it and really showcases Gilmore’s voice. The lyrics and vocal delivery are chillingly beautiful when combined with the piano.
Phantoms Fill The Sky is a great haunting album, but perhaps could be delivered in shorter more concise collections.
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