Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantamonium: The Harsh Expanse (Plus Track Premiere)

hotel wrecking city traders phantamonium

Melbourne instrumental duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders will release their third album, Phantamonium on March 18 through Evil Hoodoo. That in itself is a departure for the brotherly instrumentalists, guitarist Toby Matthews and drummer Ben Matthews, as most everything they’ve done since their 2008 debut, Black Yolk, has been offered through their own Bro Fidelity imprint. One of several departures, as it happens. The two-piece’s last long-player was 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), which followed a 2010 single, Somer/Wantok (review here), a 2011 collaboration with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here) and 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon, and they’ve been likewise active since that LP’s release, though perhaps more insular. In 2014, they released a single-song EP Ode to Chunn that found its origins in a mostly-improvised live-recorded piece of the same name (discussed here), and they followed that with Loose Alcoholic, a digital single, and a 2015 split LP with Hey Colossus (also on Evil Hoodoo).

In January of this year, they posted the 12-minute track “Coven” with guest second guitar from Raul Sanchez i Jorge (River of Snakes) that, while it doesn’t appear on Phantamonium, offered a glimpse of the album’s methods all the same, grown progressive, more patient and strikingly fluid from its initial angularity on Black Yolk, basking in a chemistry honed as much on stage as in the studio, Hotel Wrecking City Traders seeming to show up and play live no matter what the situation might be. Phantamonium finds them moving further away from the raw “one guitar, one drumkit” methodology and, with the help of Jorge toward an exploratory vibe they rightly call psychedelic noise. Presented as four extended tracks totaling 41 minutes across two clearly delineated sides, their new outing still holds onto an intensity born out of their jagged roots, but if Hotel Wrecking City Traders have been looking for a wavelength of their own this whole time, it would seem they’ve found it.

Soon enough into opener “Dusted Pines,” the second guitar is introduced as a wave of feedback and effects under a central intro line, the drums joining shortly thereafter as the 9:33 track begins to unfold. There’s no moment of explosion, no feverish burst, but parts build as they go forward, thicker tone kicking in after about three minutes and fuller fuzz at around 4:30, pushing ahead into an increasingly noisy wash, one guitar strumming furiously as the other casts out feedback lines, drums fueling the freakout all the while. There’s something almost ritualistic about it, but Hotel Wrecking City Traders have never had any kind of cultish element to them, so perhaps its just a trance they happen to cast. The song ends in feedback that shifts fluidly into the drum and what-sounds-an-awful-lot-like-bass-if-it-isn’t opening of the title-track, the side A closer and first of two songs in a row over 11 minutes long with side B opener “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” following.

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Like its predecessor, “Phantamonium” is in no rush at its start, unfolding a serene and fluid jam with just a hint of tension underlying that will come closer to the fore as they head toward the halfway mark, click on rawer tones, and set into another build, but the opening sets a hypnotic sprawl that defines “Phantamonium” as much as the chaos that ensues, Ben‘s drums holding together an onslaught of riffing and feedback with dense thud and washing, piercing crash. After a few minutes of forward thrust, the guitars drop to feedback, the drums slow, and they shift into a massive, rolling progression that will carry the three of them to the noise-caked finish of the album’s first half, amp crackle fading as the last piece to go. A quick platter flip or, you know, the next file, and “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” kicks in with an immediate surge of feedback that, if you listen closely, runs underneath the entire song, emerging once again at the ending fade as if to brag about having been there the whole time.

“Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” gets no continuation on Phantamonium, but the 20-minute “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 2)” appeared on the Hey Colossus split, and had some of the same underlying instrumental themes, so while some of it is by its very nature improvised or studio happenstance — one can only control how waves of feedback are going to act to a point — there are also plans at work. Drums are sparse at first on “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1),” but take hold gradually and push through the initial post-rock wisps of guitar into more prog rocking heaviness, that feedback line almost maddening underneath as the band tries to run away from it but can’t. A wah solo at about nine minutes in hits on an apex, and soon enough later, they seem to resign themselves to locking in a slower groove, but that too comes apart as they move toward the slower fadeout, that feedback and what I assume are looped ambient notes going last into silence before the opening of closer and shortest track at 8:51, “Entering the Lodge,” starts with what feels like especially peaceful strumming considering the abrasion “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” was able to affect by the time it was done.

That’s not to say “Entering the Lodge” doesn’t have its own feedback layer — it’s Theremin-esque, actually — but just that the central riff of the song is more toward the front, a kind of space/psych rock groove establishing itself over a forward drum push, building subtly but with not all that far to go in the first place, so a kind of casual trip to end off. It peaks, recedes, peaks again and ends in a big-rock-finish style of crash as if to highlight Hotel Wrecking City Traders‘ relationship between the studio and the stage, and fades its last noises over the final minute, a quiet ending to what at times has been a turbulent outing. That’s nothing new for the band — duo, trio, collaboration partners; in whatever incarnation a given release might find them working — but the second guitar throughout Phantamonium does add considerably to their ability to create a wash, and rather than give them something to lean on, it seems only to have driven their experimentalist tendencies to another level entirely. All the better. I don’t know if that’s a permanent situation or not, but for Phantamonium, it’s helped Hotel Wrecking City Traders take another step in their ongoing, continually thrilling progression.

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