Phantom Horse
Different Forces






The German duo of Ulf Schütte and Niklas Dommaschk forms Phantom Horse, physically based in Hamburg but figuratively lost in the diaphanous world of controlled chromodynamics and hexangular hydrazine heydays. Enforced by the power of the Moog synthesizer and further ennobled by retrogressive drum machines, cautious guitars and further analog devices, their second album Different Forces bursts at the seams with a curiously friendly and cerulean approach that is open to scrutiny, even invitingly so. Released in October 2015 on Umor Rex Records situated in Mexico City, the six-track peritoneum is available in a limited edition of 300 vinyl sparklers that come with a download code. Naturally, one can also fully stream and purchase the digital-only version directly at Umor Rex’s Bandcamp section as usual. Mastered by John Tejada and featuring a skillfully designed layout by in-house fine arts maestro Daniel Castrejón, Different Forces imposes a potentially antagonistic and futile effort by means of its title, for it is actually a rather – please don’t roll your eyes in the wake of the following word – accessible epitome where autochthonous melodies are king. The textures and appearances have a plasticizing function, true enough, for their often desiccated and spiky appearance might be mistaken with minimalism, eclecticism or even convolution. But this is where the polyphonic tone sequences and other phylogenetic ascriptions come into play. This is where things get different. Justifiably, Different Forces is further carved out and approximated below.


As always, the artwork is designed by Daniel Castrejón. 


Amsel Variation opens Phantom Horse’s aural plateau of bird-related decoy. Known as the common blackbird and at home almost all over the world, the plummeted creature shares its audible existence with woodpecker clicks, arpeggiated aqua aureoles, clavicular chroma chimes and ligneous lycopod lozenges. Even screeching saxes scythe through the air in the latter third. A benthic 16-bit aura is omnipresent, ameliorated by the more sophisticated gradient of the various legato slides that stereo-pan their way through the colchicine coppice. Despite the many alcoves of sound, sustain and silence, Amsel Variation feels immediate, fleshed out and infinitesimally inimical: this route through the forest lets you ponder. Meanwhile, the title-lending showstopper Different Forces jitters along qua its orderly stop-and-go notion, with the synth arpeggio spawning an uplifting vibe of early 70’s technocracy. The orthochromatic wonder turns into aposematism sooner rather than later; crestfallen halftones, periglacial ice floes and rotenone rings meet, mesh and depart. In the second half, however, Phantom Horse inject supra-romanticism and let the parallax layers amend the specific needs of each other, creating a hieratic-horticultural phytolith that is ultimately nutritious.


The small-ish contribution called Vloid may be the shortest entity with less than two and a half minutes of runtime, but what it lacks in physiognomical aspects, it gains in its depiction of holarctic conflation of vernal veils and hibernal hypanthium helixes. The simmering synth layers shimmer in vermillion tones, their granular appearance working well with the sharpened liquedous droplets and caudal sporophytes that waft through the dissipative diorama, always dressed to size, naturally. Eventually, Hector materializes: an arctic warbler whose sound-based erethism radiates wondrous wanderlust, molybdenized micrometry and digital dub doldrums in a glistening pectiniform fashion, you can hear the return of the feathery adjuvants and timbrical floralcy in an utterly electropositive ribcage full of hydromagnesite.  


The fifth track marks the epicenter of Different Forces, the gravitational redshift and thermal immersion circulator that runs for way over 15 minutes, making the approach of Phantom Horse an example of cathexis and scientificity. Delegate Welt is that centerpiece. Roughly translatable into busy world or occupied world – with the grave distinction between the two connotational forces being up to the listener’s choice – and supercharged with helictites, nepetalactones as well as various mountains and hills, the duo of Dommaschk and Schütte enmeshes a softly cottoned but nonetheless comparatively hammering pulsatile aorta with the cautiously alkaliphilic hue of electric guitars, biomorphic bell blebs and chlorotic cristae. The mood is much more amicable pushes the listening subject forward ever so gently with its fragile, almost asymmetric percussion nematode. Hued in salubrious sine spirals and fermion fibroblasts, the baroclinic boundaries of Belebte Welt are made of sharp contrasts before a black void, but these colorful shapes and gestalts fluctuate and flex all the merrier in their volatile accretion. The short outro Afterglow feels like an appendix, a noble addendum full of stylophone-like seven-note melodies which rise above the lactic fog in order to reach the caproic luminosity that is hinted at by means of demotic harp-oid Moog mica, adiabatic sawtooth lilts and an otherwise debonair complexion of proselytizing macronutrients.


With Different Forces, Phantom Horse implicitly ask the listener to redefine the interpretation of that frequently appearing kind of terminus. What is a force in music? What is forceful? As it turns out, the six-track album doesn’t give an answer to these questions in the traditional sense, or to say it more cheekily: it fails in delivering the various scythes, scapegraces and rotoscoping riots that appear in many a Glitch and almost all Shoegaze outings. This presumed lack turns into an erudite array of strong proteostasis an phototropism. The fact that a punctilio is ubiquitous throughout the album – that is a battery of vesicles, muons and spinning nuclei – could be considered a force indeed; a force to reckon with. Less pectin and polymers, more fluid-processed magnetotails and silica gel, that’s the implied credo style-wise. Whenever Phantom Horse turn into aquatic, mucoid or jellylike locales, their humidity is encapsulated into pearl-like epigenetic positrons, and it is these Moog-powered devices and Glitch-fueled agents that reign over the endemic epithelia that are spanned over the various ventiducts and ventricles. If you might call melodious chimesscapes a force, then yes, Different Forces has you covered too. Less abstract and abrasive, ever-more cenobitic and benignant, the six tracks venture into hatched suntraps from time to time, but then remain in verglas estuaries reliant on equimolar chromophores. Glitch as nomological and isothermal as can be. No drumrolls needed: these forces are different alright. 


Further listening and reading:

  • The album is available on Bandcamp and thru distributors Thrill Jockey & Morr Music.
  • Umor Rex Records on Twitter: @UmorRex


Ambient Review 455: Phantom Horse – Different Forces (2015). Originally published on Oct. 14, 2015 at