Straddles brash garage rock and pop subtleties, shedding the trappings of the members’ comparatively reined-in solo material.
Phantastic Ferniture is a band name that can only rise out of happenstance. On an casual drive, members of the Sydney-based, four-piece rock outfit spotted a sign advertising Australian retailer Fantastic Furniture and were immediately struck by its droll humor, later altering the name to dodge copyright infringement. Even more fortuitous than the origins of the band’s christening, though, is the story of its formation: Late one night, after drinks at a pinball and pizza shop, Julia Jacklin, Elizabeth Hughes, Ryan K. Brennan and Tom Stephens simply vowed to start a band together. Four years later, that same spirit of spontaneity is at the liberating epicenter of the quartet’s self-titled debut.
Over nine songs, the band straddles brash garage rock and pop subtleties, shedding the trappings of the members’ comparatively reined-in solo material. To date, Hughes and Stephens are devotees of the acoustic indie ballad, Brennan’s production work is characterized by uncluttered spaciousness and Jacklin, the best known of the group, has made a name for herself with two albums of ruminative folk. But here, the music is less contained and more primal, surging with the kind of unbottled energy that comes from uninhibited synergy and growling overdriven guitar.
A sublime component of her downtempo folk, Jacklin’s resonant alto twangs with longing and possesses a certain fragility, thinning and occasionally cracking at high notes. Although at first glance her vocals might seem an unlikely fit for the album’s harsher rock leanings, they immediately prove otherwise, providing a palatable tonic for the songs’ heavily distorted guitar. It’s a treat to witness Jacklin elevate and let loose on some of the more upbeat tracks here. On “Bad Timing,” she howls after each chorus, her voice as bright as the pulsing guitar. She introduces “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin” with sighed ad-libs that dart hypnotically around the wriggling bassline. Evidently, the spark behind Jacklin’s unrestrained energy is the band’s undeniable chemistry; it’s easy to envisage the songs as products of fruitful jam sessions, organic and uncontrived.
The most memorable songs on the album are those fully steeped in the grit and dark matter of garage rock. Jacklin prowls after a lover on “Take It Off,” a lust-filled anthem saturated by a molten guitar lick and punctuated by riotous bass. The slow-burning “I Need It” transforms into a wall of power chords and guitar string scratching, summoning up the sludge and muck of grunge. Next to easygoing but hackneyed iterations of jangly indie rock in the form of tracks like “Dark Corner Dance Floor” and “Gap Year,” the band’s exploration of heavier sound is an intriguing respite that will hopefully not be their last.
This self-titled debut captures musicians treading new frontier, respectively and together. Not only does it mark Brennan’s first time playing drums with a band, Hughes’s first time taking up lead guitar and Stephen’s first time as bassist, it also evinces the band’s preternatural powers of collaboration. The four friends with a drunken promise have developed into a quartet that is ripe with potential. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we see of Phantastic Ferniture.