From their delightfully corny name to their free-spirited music videos, Phantastic Ferniture are a band that approach their work with an attitude that is both laid back and instinctive. This does not however distract from the serious talent on display. The most recognisable is none other than Julia Jacklin, the indie darling of Sydney whose 2016 debut Don’t Let the Kids Win garnered critical acclaim and international attention. With fellow songwriter and close friend Elizabeth Hughes fulfilling guitarist responsibilities and producer Ryan K Brennan (King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard) behind the drum kit, Phantastic Ferniture specialises in a cool, confident blend of lo-fi garage rock and classic pop sensibilities. Initially starting as a side project of friends, it is clear the outfit has now taken on a life of its own – albeit one without a permanent bass player. Original bassist Tom Capell plays on three of the tracks on this album. Replacement bass player Tom Stephens covers the rest, however he’s now firmly focused on his solo project Tesse.
“This band is unlike anything else we’ve ever done so there’s no rules. It feels like we just have to let go and let it take us where it wants to go,” says Hughes. But right off the bat, the group make it clear that their relaxed approach to music is not at the price of personal depth. “Uncomfortable Teenager” opens the record with a stylish interplay between staccato guitar riffs and a bouncing bassline, coloured in by Jacklin’s soaring vocals. The song is a neat introduction to the concise and uncluttered style that the band excels in, leaving plenty of room for flurries of beaming guitar and Jacklin’s uncertain murmurs of “I don’t know why, why I felt nothing”. However, the angst and confusion of the opener quickly fades with the following track, “Bad Timing”. Jacklin’s voice brims with self-assurance and frank honesty – her soaring soprano sparring with steady backing from Hughes. The chemistry the two vocalists have proves one of the band’s most valuable assets, floating above the fine mist of frothing guitars and paced percussion.
The album’s most iconic moments arrive with its two singles, proving the band’s knack for making groovy, danceable music. No other song is a finer example of this than the lead single, “Fuckin ‘n’ Rollin”. It may be one of the most lyrically minimal tracks on the record, but it compensates with its ridiculously catchy bassline and buzzing chords, married together by Jacklin’s sultry voice. Production wise, Brennan is patient and smooth, leaving plenty of breathing space for the subtle picks of guitar and harmonic chant of “just feel right,” a lyric that could stand as the band’s mantra.
The garage-pop energy only grows in following track “Gap Year”, the most wild and powerful song on the record. With a hazy, Strokes-esque intro, the rollicking bass and punkish downstrokes counter perfectly with the ethereal vocal performance, as Jacklin lets out a liberated “woo” (something that would have felt completely out of place within her solo material), before descending into an awesome array of swirling guitar and determined, tribal percussion.
At the record’s halfway mark, production slides into a darker, more sensual territory, unfortunately at the expense of the tight songwriting qualities on display on the preceding tracks. Songs such as “Take It Off” and “I Need It” best demonstrate the lustful air and heavier sound, with Jacklin’s vocals reaching raucous heights – bringing to mind the unhinged style of Karen O while distorted guitars and crashing percussion interplays beneath. Underlying political commentary is on display in songs such as “Parks”, as Jacklin declares “the dark is part of me,” with a snarling confidence.
Tracks such as “Dark Corner Dance Floor” and “Mumma y Pappa” revel in a dark upbeat energy the band have been building up to. Within the former, the band prove the brevity of Brennan’s production, never playing an extra note if unnecessary and instead dressing the upbeat percussion and turbulent chords with flourishes of twangy guitar. With a composition remaining smooth and sleek, the wild whoops and yelps of Jacklin and Hughes in the background maintain the song’s unique, unruly character. Closing track “Mumma y Pappa” glides in with a smooth, plucked guitar lick and warbling vocals that recall the nonchalant cool of Sonic Youth, before climaxing in a musical wall of layered chords and melodic harmonies.
The self-titled debut album from Phantastic Ferniture is remarkably stylish and nuanced. While the drive and intent of the record’s first half packs a far stronger punch than its second, the band’s relaxed and uncomplicated mindset has led to a fun and enjoyable debut – one which will establish the Sydney outfit as a band to watch.
Phantastic Ferniture is released Friday 27th July via Polyvinyl Records (USA), Transgressive Records (UK) and Makeout Records / Caroline Australia.