Los Angeles' Phantom Planet are a melodic indie outfit known for their mix of Beatlesque pop and garage rock. Centered on the vocals of Alan Greenwald, Phantom Planet first gained widespread attention in the 2000s after their song "California" (off 2002's The Guest), was used as the theme song to the prime-time Fox teen soap opera The O.C. It also didn't hurt that their original drummer was Rushmore actor Jason Schwartzman. Following Schwartzman's 2003 departure, the band's sound evolved, shifting from a sunny, piano-based style to a more kinetic brand of garage rock as heard on 2004's Phantom Planet and 2008's Raise the Dead. Following an extended hiatus that found Greenwald working on solo material, Phantom Planet returned with 2020's Devastator. Formed in Los Angeles in 1994, Phantom Planet originally featured high school classmates singer/guitarist Alex Greenwald, guitarist Jacques Brautbar, bassist Sam Farrar (son of renowned singer/songwriter John Farrar), guitarist Darren Robinson, and drummer Jason Schwartzman (son of actress Talia Shire and the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola). Named after a cult 1961 sci-fi film The Phantom Planet, the band developed a melodic sound influenced by classic acts like the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, and Electric Light Orchestra, as well as contemporary bands like Weezer, Blur, and Radiohead. They began playing shows and eventually inked a deal with Geffen in 1997. The group's debut album, Phantom Planet Is Missing, arrived the following year. Along with music, the band found success in other parts of the entertainment industry during this period, including several members landing guest spots on TV shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Get Real. In particular, Schwartzman's acting career took off as he landed starring roles in films like 1998's Rushmore and 2002's Slackers. Greenwald modeled and appeared in Gap commercials. In early 2001, Phantom Planet returned to the studio to work on a follow-up effort with Tchad Blake (Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow) and Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney). The resulting The Guest appeared the following year on the Dreamworks label. Included on the album was the hooky track "California," which was released as the album's second single and subsequently picked as the opening theme to the wildly popular television drama The O.C. A Top Ten hit in several countries, the song reached number 35 on the Alternative Songs chart, and helped land the album on the Billboard 200. Despite the group's burgeoning success, Schwartzman announced his departure from the band in August 2003 to focus on his acting career, but he continued to release music with his own Coconut Records project. The group's third album, 2004's eponymous Phantom Planet, introduced drummer Jeff Conrad. Produced by Dave Fridmann, it found them adopting a more garage rock-oriented sound. It peaked at number 95 on the Billboard 200. Following the album's release, guitarist Brautbar left the band and took on film scoring work and other musical collaborations. With 2008's Tony Berg-produced Raise the Dead, the group moved to Fueled by Ramen. Included on the album were the singles "Do the Panic" and "Dropped." After a farewell show at The Troubadour in December of 2008, the band went on indefinite hiatus. Over the next few years, the members of the group stayed busy with other projects as Greenwald worked on solo material and collaborated on projects with the Young Veins and Phases. Farrar also formed the band Operation Aloha with members of Gomez and Maroon 5. Similarly, Robinson toured with Miniature Tigers. Reunited in 2011, Phantom Planet played a handful of welcome-back shows including several at the Troubadour, where they were joined by guitarist Brautbar. Also around this time, Farrar began splitting his time between Phantom Planet and touring as a member of Maroon 5. Following work on Greenwald's solo project, Phantom Planet announced their official return from hiatus with the 2019 Tony Berg-produced single "Balisong." That track was included on the group's fifth full-length album, 2020's Devastator.
© Matt Collar /TiVo
© Matt Collar /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released March 1, 2004 | Epic
Phantom Planet's self-titled third album finds the group turning its backs on the manicured pop of The Guest, which spawned the hit (and theme song for Fox TV's The O.C.) "California," in favor of a sound influenced by garagey New York bands like the Strokes. Alex Greenwald's formerly earnest croon is now a surly, slurry sneer, and the rest of the band follows suit, adopting a scuzzy sound as effortlessly as donning battered jean jackets and skinny ties. Phantom Planet's production is particularly striking, and strange: its cheap, compressed sound seems like it should be the work of someone like Strokes producer Gordon Raphael, but it's actually sonic mastermind Dave Fridmann behind the knobs. Why the band used one of rock's most intricate producers to emulate one of its most basic is something of a mystery, but Fridmann brings as much care to making Phantom Planet sound like they recorded this in the garage as he does to making other bands sound like they recorded their music on other planets. It's difficult to determine just how savvy the band's garage rock makeover is, but Phantom Planet isn't a bad fusion of noisy rock and the kind of music they were doing before. It works especially well when the band hangs on to the melodic sensibilities that made The Guest's best moments memorable: "The Happy Ending" kick starts the album with equal amounts of pummeling drums and bittersweetly ragged vocals; "1st Things 1st" is a model of aggressive, economical melody; and "The Meantime" rivals almost anything that appeared on Room on Fire. But while songs like "Badd Business" and "Jabberjaw" might be tighter and rock harder than their previous work, it's at the price of the melodies that used to be the band's strongest asset. These melodies return on the second half of Phantom Planet, which is nearly as pretty and atmospheric as the first half is raucous and dense. This sequencing tends to work against the album -- keeping the loud side loud and the quiet side quiet results in an album that is, on first listen, alternately over- and underwhelming. Nevertheless, both Fridmann and the band have some of their best moments on "By the Bed," "After Hours," and "Knowitall," all of which have as much impact, if not more, than the loudest songs and reaffirm that Phantom Planet really are a pop band at heart. The late-blooming acclaim for Guster and Fountains of Wayne, and of course, Phantom Planet's own success with "California" shows that there's always a place for well-crafted, unapologetically pop music. But this willfully noisy, messy album is ultimately just as contrived as the band's glossier sound was, and the shift from The Guest's winsome pop -- which was also a shift from their debut's heavily Weezer-influenced sound -- makes it difficult to get a grip on the band. Their O.C. fan base will probably miss their previous sound, and those who follow the garage rock bands may not accept Phantom Planet as that kind of group. Phantom Planet is by no means a bad album, but it is a slightly strange and frustrating one. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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