Although an easy label for The Driftwood Fairytales would be folk-rock, it’s a term I really despise; most bands associated with the name are neither one nor the other, a compromise between the genres resulting in the loss of the subtleties of the former and the delivery of the latter. For this Berlin band a better term might be stadium folk, but again that may imply the frantic desperation and overly earnest, white-collar creations of the likes of Mumford and the Whale and their music for bankers who want to seem edgy or who have finally graduated from their Dire Straights albums. Lets just say that in their own take on the collision of folk and rock, these boys manage to find the best from both genres.
Taking a punchy folk that has more in common with the likes of The Levellers or The Waterboys and combining it with the anthemic rock of The Gaslight Anthem, the result is a gloriously big sound, wonderfully infectious, memorable and filled with enough twisting dynamic and musical curveballs to keep you guessing.
The immediately obvious jewel in the crown of Phantoms is Sleeping on The Floor, an adrenalin rush of gang choruses, pounding beats and frantic guitars that morphs into equally buoyant live favourite I Can’t Stop Movin’. It is, however, only after you have played the album a few times and become more familiar with the songs that some of the less immediate songs reveal themselves and you manage to appreciate the more subtle, understated qualities of the band. Old Pine Trees is one of those songs, tribal mass vocals and minimal guitar lines forming a backdrop to an emotive piece of lyrical brilliance.
Once they have established the two extremes of their musical path, other songs are able to meander between the two, To The Beauty of Living could have become just another big sing-along that they do so well, but stops short of the obvious instead opting for atmosphere, space and a heart-rending sentiment.
The album goes out not with a bang but the wistful reflections of I Wish I Was, again showing that sometimes the biggest impact is obtained not by a cascade of crashing guitars and massed harmonies but by connecting with the emotions and hopes that form the human condition. Short, to the point and the perfect swansong.
The Driftwood Fairytales are a band that deserves to be projected to a wider audience, if they keep making albums of the quality and craftsmanship of Phantoms, it is only a matter of time.