My Empty Phantom-Collection of Memories I/II: Album Review

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It makes sense that Jesse Beaman makes music for national geographic films.  His bright sonic portraits evoke the feelings of sweeping valleys and striking mountains with his long guitar melodies and elated drum patterns.  On his new project under the moniker “My Empty Phantom,” the listener is taken on a journey through pieces of Beaman’s past.  Although Beaman clearly operates in a particularly bright rock sound, the work seems to also incorporate the sadness that comes with nostalgia with longing melodies and contemplative instances of space.

A certain brightness sets in at the very beginning of “Forever.”  The sunburst guitar layering and swooping melodies combine over the lively drums for a mood of hope, reminiscent of the brighter moments of neo-classical and post-rock’s past.  As the end of the track sets in, however, this brightness is put into question by ambient soundscaping.  Distant melodies wrench over tense synth chords with the newfound absence of drums emphasizing the use of space.  As is true on many of the tracks on the work, the drums provide a grounding effect.  With many different chords and melodies blended together, the stagnant drums provide foundational momentum.

“Sliding Down Dunes” houses a bit more emphasis on melody as highly manipulated guitar lines float over the textural finger-picking loops.  Drums return on “Moon Dance,” with various guitar and keyboard patterns constantly shifting over the top.  Chugging piano provides another rhythmic voice on the heavy “City Lights,” before another drum-less spurt comes through on “Goodbye My Friend.”  Whether intentionally or not, this feels like a stopping point.  Taking up only one minute, the track simply plays around with various instrumental sounds from the first half of the record, providing a nice contrast from the more rhythmically driven sounds that precede it.  Also, the track does well to summarize the mood up until this point.  Beaman sits on the brighter side of the rock world, but the emotional weight is constantly marked by a certain longing indicative of inner turmoil.

“Joy Years” loses a bit of this longing, remaining bright from beginning to end.  Admittedly, the synthesized horn sounds are a bit distasteful, but this does not totally detract from the luster as these sounds remain blended underneath the pressing acoustic piano work.  “Creating the Sea with Tears” recaptures the tension between bright and dark with huge swath of distortion arching over the heartbeat of the track.  The album ends on another slightly somber note—again playing with longing emotions in the generally bright “Reflection.”

Jesse Beaman provides a great deal of instrumental sounds, but his ability to blend keeps the work focused.  Guitars are softened by droning long tones with reverb and sustain preventing the keyboards from sticking out too obviously.  Amongst the blending, Beaman also shifts focus a lot.  Various keyboard and guitar sounds constantly remain a part of the picture, but save a few hectic peaks, the work establishes somewhat of a traditional hierarchy.  New rhythmic motives are added to the drum foundation in the beginning of the track while the high-pitched melodic ideas slowly creep into the foreground to finish things off.  Also, certain looping ideas will take center stage at various points during each tune before yielding focus to another part of the equation.

The work is quite quick-hitting, which makes for a digestible experience, but Beaman probably could have spent a bit more time letting certain ideas develop.  Spacey, drum-less moments are oftentimes too short lived and with the longest tracks emphasizing a heavy use of drums, the work can be a bit one sided.  Perhaps the 20-minute jam sessions of post-rock’s past are not what Beaman has in mind for his work, but if his spacey, ambient jams matched the length of his punching passages, his project may have struck a better balance.  Still, the work flows very well and remains beautiful from beginning to end.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

A bit more time could have been spent in space, but beautiful nonetheless.

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