Hong Kong In The 60s – My Fantoms (Proper Songs)
by Joseph Kyle
Oh. My. God.
I have a new favorite band and they have quickly dominated my heart. They are named Hong Kong In The 60s, and my love for them is quick, without much forethought, and unapologetic. This London trio’s debut record, My Fantoms, arrived in my inbox in a rather unceremonious fashion, a link to the band’s website and a link to a download of their album. Over the years, I have had countless numbers of such anonymous emails, and I’ve ignored them completely, for the contents within were usually a waste of time, energy, and hard drive space.
Not so in this case.
I found some of the quotes amusing and intriguing – Sean O’Hagan’s in particular – but quickly clicked on the link to their Bandcamp page, and discovered, upon my first listen to ‘When You Were Dreaming’, that such humbleness in presentation did not serve the band well, and this “aw-shucks” email I received from someone I have never heard of before only added to the mystery – why would a band of such enormous quality and talent and style downplay itself? Liking the sample I heard on Bandcamp, I downloaded the record from the link they provided.
I quickly discovered that doing so was the best decision I’ve made in quite some time.
What I heard was a band that reminded me of the cool (as in sound, not as in style) music of the mid 90s, most notably Stereolab, Saint Etienne, and Broadcast – a POP sensibility rooted in mid-20th Century styles of music, topped off by the breathy, gossamer crooning of Mei Yau Kan. She sings quietly, hushed, but in such a way that becomes something else entirely, thanks to the accompaniment of fellow multi-instrumentalists Christopher Greenberg and Tim Scullion. Occasionally one of the boys takes a turn at singing, adding an even nicer touch to a quality record – but after listening to My Fantoms a few times, I sort of believe that vocals are merely another tool in the band’s arsenal of musical ideas. Mei Yau Kan can sing, and can sing wonderfully, but I ultimately think that vocals are simply a tool, and not the focus, of the band’s vision.
What really struck me was that My Fantoms started in one stylistic direction, but ended in another, often times leading my listening experience to think that I might be listening to another group. I wasn’t, of course; the band’s music never breaks a sweat, never raises its heartbeat, but never sinks under the weight of its own mellowness either. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising, then, that the band concluded with a pair of Krautrock-styled instrumentals. But it all feels and sounds so natural, so normal, that upon reflection, it is exactly the best way for them to conclude. If you are so inclined, you may listen to the record at their bandcamp, and one can read a commentary the band has provided for its motivation and inspiration behind each song. I wouldn’t, of course, undertake that until after listening to the album in toto.
Stylistic variety in a record is risky, especially for a new band, but Hong Kong In The 60s does so with aplomb, deftly setting a pace – a very cool, very mellow, very relaxing pace – and then playing around within the confines of that space. My Fantoms is an enjoyable and impressive debut from a trio who will hopefully grace the world with more pleasant, beautiful, and highly original music.