Phantasmes is French duo Maninkari‘s soundtrack to a movie of the same name, a movie about a man driven to madness by the apparition of a beautiful woman… a pulp, popular tale that speaks of an obsession that mystifies, an intricate analysis of crime scenes born from the will to fantasy. The music of such a thing is murder, a hacking into pieces that leaves only stillness behind, the silence of blood drying in the sunrise. Like all daydreams of violence, it is made from both a firm rationality and an emotional unravelling, switching fluidly between improv sections and composed ones, leading listeners through all sorts of disturbing connections of sounds and silences: as the violin strikes, the dagger flashes, makes a cut, pierces, and rests only to begin anew.
The narrative the music plays out is (momentarily, at least, since we can’t associate it directly with the movie yet) one of deep self-mistrust, in the sense that throughout the two parts that compose the soundtrack there’s no clear direction, and everything remains undefined. An ambient-like piece might be going on, and within moments it’s interrupted by something else, sometimes an instrument, sometimes just silence, sometimes an unexpected change in structure. It develops as if the musicians were but the puppets of something greatly sinister, of something that endlessly endears the loss of control (and considering the attention given to every detail, it becomes obvious it’s not just the disconnection from the images). It is classic noire music, the puzzle of a locked-room murder, something that can be solved with a logical approach but which will inevitably contaminate the consciousness of the detective with the melancholic darkness of survival. After that, looking at someone also entails looking at their corpse, the autopsy marks signalling not death but the overbearing excesses of passionate living – it might be easy to figure out how the music proceeds, but it will nonetheless gnaw the core of thinking, letting all sorts of emotional responses emerge from the depths.
In many ways, Maninkari’s music is similar to that of artists like Kreng, except that all the possibilities of sublime ‘resolution’ constant in the art of the latter are stripped away in the case of the former, leaving only a mist of disturbance in which there is no place for the intensity of a beauty turned spectral. Here, there is only an all-encompassing strangeness, a sense of alienation that produces the slow decay of sheltering reason. The mind rebels, and in the anxiety of echoing drones finds a humming solace, falling apart ever-so-quietly. With each of the two parts of the album clocking in at twenty minutes, Phantasmes lasts long enough to guide any listener into a deep feeling of insecurity by means of its various, seemingly random leaps in styles and sounds that constantly pervert expectations: it is not aggressive, it does not want to confront and make you tremble with fear (for its form can be fairly pleasant), aiming instead to seduce, to make you surrender to the excitement of the weird, a sensuality not at all devoid of the fantastic, a manner of slightly deviating desires into the realm of taboos, where it keeps doing things wrongly.
This is why, in the end, Phantasmes is such a chilling album, one that demands to be listened in the plain of day so as to enable us to look at every secret crime scene previously unseen, at every little strange thing as evidence of an essential disjointedness to come; the setup is musical inasmuch it is concerted, but the weird changes in rhythm betray the noisy, paranoid fantasies of the infinite ways in which violence can and will irrupt into a seemingly normal day, into an apparently innocent greeting, a deceivingly pleasant smile… and the terrible pleasure that ensues from it. (David Murrieta)