Label: La Nausée Records Release date: 18/08/10 Link: Myspace Buy: Amazon If ever an album were to have “label under Atmospheric” stamped on it, then the debut long-player by Canadian/British duo Elsie Martins and Johnny Martin (aka Phantom) would be one. Smoke & Mirrors certainly ticks all the right boxes – spare arrangements, reverb-laden guitars, ominous sounding drums, spectral keyboards and impassioned yet ethereal vocals. There are even random sound affects thrown in for good measure, including, apparently, the Mars Space Rover. This, then, is not a record to get toes tapping at your local indie disco on a Saturday night. Smoke & Mirrors is a very soundtracky album, which isn’t all that surprising given that Phantom are renowned for their use of assorted visuals during live shows (one of which I caught last year at the Victoria in East London). However, the band do have an ear for a (sinister) melody, which breaks through the ambience on tracks like ‘We Float‘, ‘Blood Money‘, ‘Voodoo Romantic’ and the single, ‘Great Pretender‘. One jarring moment on the album, though, is the inclusion half way through of a remixed version of ‘We Float’ which, as well as being a little pointless, also sticks out like a sore thumb with its late 80’s synth drum. Detractors may label Phantom as sounding like a Goth Bat for Lashes, but that’s a little unfair. Also, the stylised format of the album (an artistic statement in itself?) opens the duo up to accusations of pretentiousness – Smoke & Mirrors is download only, but split into two iPod unfriendly “sides” (for people who remember vinyl) with all the tracks running seamlessly into each other, so you can’t just dip into them individually. It’s music that challenges you to listen to it – a brave move in this mp3, ADD age. Overall, Phantom have produced a well worked album, a distillation of their live sound, but one that you can only really listen to in the right frame of mind. And that may be the problem – when you listen to Smoke & Mirrors, it feels a bit lacking, that you need some sort of visual accompaniment. Despite their commendable approach on record, it may be better to appreciate Phantom’s music in a live setting. Photobucket