Coultrain is the project of cross-disciplinarian A. M. Frison. Fittingly, Phantasmagoria is equally eclectic as its composer is. Frison, by contorting and bending the genre of avant-soul, creates an album which perfectly coheres with its title. 'Phantasmagoria' presents soul music in the form of a dream-like stupor; vivid and lucid tracks melt into each other, creating an album that is akin to a nebulous sonic mosaic.
The dream sequence begins with 'St Solitude.' Rich bass grooves stir sets of synthesizers into arpeggiated flurries, nicely harmonizing with Frison's soulful chants. Simulacra synths accentuate dejected musings, where Frison asserts 'It's scary out there.' 'St Solitude' quickly mutates into the next track, 'A Very Moment.' Metronomic drumming supports both dainty plucks and jaunty, oscillating synths. Here Frison flexes his soulful chops, with singing that occupies the intersection between expression and musicality.
The next song, 'The Pact', presents a palette cleanser. Layered vocals and nuanced bass riffs escort us through an avant-soul haze. The period of sonic rest afforded by 'The Pact' is all in preparation for 'The Essentials.' In this song, grooves that have become quintessential to the album abruptly give way to minimalistic twitches of synthesizers. Frison launches into a jazz-rap verse, which ends just as suddenly as it began.
The change in tone hinted at by 'The Essentials' continues through the eponymous track 'Phantasmagoria.' The track begins with oscillating and pulsating synths which are redolent of Marr's guitar on 'How Soon is Now?' Frison then delivers lines of erudite and lurid lyrics, which conjure up images of dreams and vying with one's own memory. The track is concluded by some pensive saxophone musings. Calls echo throughout and haunt the space, much like the specters of a memory that one just cannot shake off.
'A Trip To War' presents the most obviously "avant" song of the set. Off-color synthesizers shimmer in the background, which are juxtaposed with another set of synthesizers. This other set is more heavy-handed, and belch glitchy electronic spurts. Despite this atonality, Frison continues to be an ever-present source of melody. 'A Letter' presents a return to what is similar. A malign, beguiling bass line signifies the beginning of the song, with a tentative drum beat skirting around the bass in the aim of not overstepping its mark. This rhythm then transmutes into a series of tasteful soul movements. These constant timbral and rhythmic shifts render 'A Letter' a difficult song to pin down and quantify.
The album ends with 'Famous.' Orchestral movements fill in the spaces that the muted instrumental framework fails to reach. Tastefully placed ghost notes scour Frison's charming arpeggiated vocals. 'Famous' is a fitting conclusion which contains all the stylistic features of the prior tracks.
In Phantasmagoria, much like a dream, individual ideas all coalesce into a compelling mereological sum. However, not is all as it seems (sometimes). At certain points, something is lurking insidiously. Allow yourself to be consumed by this sonic stream-of-consciousness; for, this is when the fun begins.
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