Sophomore LP by Phantom Wave “Bonfire Secrets” sets high-water mark for oceanic shoegaze fusion

Words by Jason Lee

On their second full-length release, namely Bonfire Secrets which came out this past Friday on Shore Dive Records, Brooklyn-based shoegazers Phantom Wave live up their name and then some with some 50+ minutes of pummeling wave after wave of sonic skullf*ckery which apologies for the indelicate language it’s just we wanna avoid mincing words so as to gain the full attention of anyone with delicate sensibilities who possibly can’t handle a record as sonically hardcore as this one, tho’ granted these people probably got so deeply offended by our use of the word “skullf*ckery” that they already stopped reading, I swear, with some people you can never win…

…what with its gale force blasts of swirling eye-of-the-hurricane sonics topped off with whitecaps of white noise and pink and brown noise too which really is exactly what “surf rock” oughta sound like these days anyway in an age of global warming and extreme weather events namely extreme (!) which is entirely doable considering all the crazy effects pedals and sound-pulverizing signal processing units available these days and leave it to a band called Phantom Wave to use these tools in service of a sound that evokes the monster waves that’ll soon enough swallow much of NYC whole..

…so have those surf boards at the ready but don’t worry for now despite us being all “disclaimery” above there’s plenty of spectral, oceanic dreampop to be enjoyed on the record too to soothe your frayed nerves cuz the record pretty much straddles the line 50/50 between extremes of soft shoegaze vs. hard shoegaze and if Bonfire Secrets were a water park ride we figure it’d land about halfway between a Legoland wave pool and the concussion-inducing kamikaze attractions once found at New Jersey’s still infamous (Class) Action Park (RIP)…

…a dynamics introduced right from the get-go with album opener “Chimera” fading in on seven seconds of construction site jackhammering thus giving listeners a small hint of the shape of noise to come before settling into a pleasant groove of chiming guitars, propulsive skins-beating by Rachel Fischer and a hooky Peter Hook-worthy bass line courtesy of Yanek Che until suddenly the song gets knocked over under sideways down (a running theme!) with the entrance of a bridge section that sounds as if it could’ve been airlifted in from another song not that the segue is so jarring or anything but still a bit surprising esp. given that your average shoegaze track these days tends to establish a sonic texture or two from the get-go and then not deviate too far from its established template…

…but here instead we’re introduced to a de-tuned and down-tuned dropped D melody that sounds like someone took a random riff from a sun-damaged Candlemass or Electric Wizard LP and played it back at 45 rpm (“Oh chimera / where have you been?”) thus retaining the doom metal-y melody’s sense of menace but with greater forward propulsion but most of all it’s the warped vinyl record left out in the sun too long quality of de-tuned dissonance that gets us every time during this part…

…maybe in part cuz it calls back to Kevin Shields’ “glide guitar” technique tho’ in a fairly different sonic context and most likely executed thru different means but most of all it’s the overall otherworldliness that comes across in this part that hits hard probably due to some combination of the unconventional tuning and the insanely overtone-rich timbres combined with the raw power and propulsion of the groove itself that makes it feel like all about to blast off together into an entirely new dimension…

…and we figure this is where the “phantom” aspect of Phantom Wave comes into play cuz from where we sit there’s an ineffably dreamlike, mystical, haunting quality to Bonfire Secrets which is the Platonic deal of all “shoegaze” music innit that probably has something to do with its kaleidoscopic round-robin mashups of textures, tone colors, and sound modulation via alchemical combinations of distortion, flange, delay, fuzz, chorus, overdrive et al. (something like a Chimera, no?)…

…which taken together transforms sound into something more akin to sculpture with nary a note or chord played “straight” but rather bent, pitch-shifted, and otherwise melted down and reconstituted into new sonic entities as vocalist/guitarist Ian Carpenter’s voice (itself swaddled in a halo of effects) floats ghost-like over their multi-chambered sonic edifices like one of Bluebeard’s phantom ex-wives humming “I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement” and how’s that for some random imagery…

…and what’s more the song forms are no less “bent” or “twisted” than their timbres, textures, and harmonies with each of the nine tracks highly prone to jumping the rails at any given point in time like how the outros to “Shook” and “Paceline” take those songs into new sonic dimensions ditto the chorus of “Comet Gain” (“spark again”) and the escape velocity reached mid-song elsewhere like 2:42 into “Astral” or 0:45 into “Spiraling” by our admittedly subjective standards with other points of sonic breakage arguably brought about thru the detuned dissonance heard in “Burning Clocks” at around 1:30 and in its “howling into the void” coda or the sudden shift to double-time in “First Light” starting at 2:27…

…and speaking of drifting between dimensions we don’t see Bonfire Secrets as a shoegaze album exactly (not for purists anyway) but more like a record taking the late-’80s born genre as a starting point then crossing it with other styles—call it “shoegaze fusion” or “fusegaze” if you must—with those other styles ranging from psych and noise to dreampop and surf rock and most of all so-called space rock which may be a rarely used term these days that was once applied to bands like Hawkwind (esp. their early stuff) and Spacemen 3 (esp. Sound of Confusion and The Perfect Prescription) but if we’re talkin’ music that swims in ambient textures and drones, hypnotic riddims, extended song structures (four of the LP’s nine songs break the six-minute mark) and a deliberate use of timbre as a compositional element resulting in a strong sense of spaciousness/spaciness then we’d have to say Phantom Wave fits the bill on this record as underlined by songs titles like “Astral” and “Comet Gain”…

…and finally when it comes to the mystical side of the band as described above it’s fitting for Bonfire Secrets to ride off into the sunset alternately summoning “the first light” and “the first night” over a majestic wall-of-sound that could serve equally well as soundtrack to the sun rising triumphantly over the horizon or the sun sinking down into twilight’s last gleaming and if you can’t tell whether it’s telegraphing the apocalyptic or the rapture maybe that’s exactly the point and what’s more if you got the album playing on repeat it loops straight back to the first lyric’s mention of sunrise…

…and if that’s not a cosmically deliberate the end is the beginning is the end gesture then we don’t know what is so kudos to to you clever people of Phantom Wave and what’s more this was totally the perfect soundtrack to yesterday’s solar eclipse what with it’s rapid back-to-back sunset and sunrise imagery (the sun’s gone out! the sun’s come back!) cuz honest to Zeus we were actually listening to these two tracks at the very historical moment in question but don’t worry you can put on “First Light” in 20 years and get the same effect assuming any of us are still around come 2044…

…so there you have it *takes deep bow, dodges tomatoes* but by all means please don’t stop reading now since you’ve come this far after all and what follows below is the dessert of this whole meal deal (the above text is admittedly something like a Beef and Cheese Dorito Crunch Wrap Supreme we gotta admit) where you get to hear from the Phantom Wavers themselves whose members were kind enough to share some insightful responses to the Deli’s wide-ranging but not quite so over-theorized queries so let’s ride this wave to shore but first the recording credits…


Vocals/Guitar – Ian Carpenter
Bass – Yanek Che
Drums – Rachel Fischer

Recorded by Rowan Brind
Mixed by Elliott Frazier
Mastered by Adrian Morgan



The Deli: Why the title “Bonfire Secrets”? Where was the album recorded? Anything remarkable you’d like to note about the recording process?

IAN: “Bonfire Secrets” is an evocative title bordering on nostalgic, like old friends gathered around a fire sharing old stories and jokes, memories of a simpler time. We recorded the album at Behind the Curtains Studios in Gowanus, Brooklyn–it’s a pretty homey studio with a welcoming atmosphere.

Rachel: We were on a tight schedule, with just a few days to nail down nine songs, but we still managed to use the studio to our advantage and let our creativity flow. 

The Deli: In addition to elements of shoegaze, noise rock, and dream pop, I’m getting a “space rock” spacey-psych type vibe from the record overall. And then there’s title like “COMET GAIN,” “ASTRAL,” “SPIRALING,” and “FIRST LIGHT” suggesting the same. Is there anything to this theory and if so any larger significance to it? (And if not that’s perfectly fine of course!)

IAN: Yes, some space rock elements can be gleaned from what we recorded, however with the song titles themselves we don’t think the band had space rock in mind. Adding extra guitar parts and background ambiance into the mixing helped to achieve that sound. 

Rachel: Space isn’t a deliberate overarching theme, but the titles acknowledge a kind of celestial inspiration, and hopefully represent the sort of ethereal, enigmatic, surreal feelings “space” evokes for us. 

The Deli: Would you say there’s an overall theme to the album? Or is it more a collection of songs linked by being Phantom Wave-ish and written during a certain period of time?

IAN: Yes, both, but a theme did present itself as the songs were written–appreciating life’s ups and down’s, but moving on with good intentions. 

The Deli: What’s your favorite lyric on the album (whether one line, or one entire stanza or refrain) and why?

IAN: Well, there’s so many and it’s hard to choose. One line from “Spiraling” comes to mind: “what else you want, a house to haunt”. It’s about valuing what you may have, yearning for a place to truly call home. 

Yanek: The “Burning Clocks” lyrics, in particular the “feelings transmit” line resonates with me because feelings do transmit, we’re an emotional species!

The Deli: Why did y’all choose “Chimera” as the first track? Any particular significance to “chimera” in terms of being used as a symbol or perhaps used literally?

IAN: We picked it because the song has a good vibe and felt it would be a great way to kick off the album. Chimera can mean a monster cobbled together from incompatible parts, which mirrors with the lyrics of the song–hinting at complex relationships that can either become monstrous or dreamlike, depending on how people navigate their shared experiences. 

Rachel: I think it’s a great first song because it’s catchy, quirky, short and sweet, but also has most of the sonic elements that you’ll hear from us throughout the rest of album.

The Deli: For the gearheads: anything you’d like to share regarding the gear y’all use to achieve these otherworldly sounds? 

Yanek: For the bass, I combined chorus and reverb effects, with the addition of the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff pedal. We also incorporated a Fender Rhodes into several tracks, adding an additional splash of notes, which were then digitally manipulated for even more depth. Additionally, we explored the use of various synths via MIDI, including a Farfisa organ on one of the tracks. Consider this an easter egg for you to discover–a nod to the unique sound I first appreciated in one of Abul Mogard’s records, which was very cool.

IAN: Well, that’s a (bonfire) secret, haha. Quickly I’ll say combinations of good overdrive/distortion pedals with great reverb/delay pedals makes for a good starting base…and add on from there! An interesting pedal that I use at times is the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dweller It is a mix of phaser and delay…a unique sound for sure and adds a good texture to some parts of the songs.

Rachel: We used a pedal by Recovery effects called White Gold with reverse delay for some of the lead lines, but I think a lot of the unique sounds also came out of the overall mixing process and back and forth with Elliott. 

The Deli: Seeing as I’m talking to a fellow drummer here (!) anything you wanna share about playing drums in a shoegaze/noise/space rock band? Gotta say I’m impressed at how the noisy “wall of sound” quality of much of this album is balanced out by the remarkable clarity of the production where the drum parts and bass lines remain clearly audible throughout and don’t got lost in a sea of murkiness. 

Rachel: Yes, drummer here! I think cymbal choice is essential for “the” but also my shoegaze sound. I pick bigger cymbals with a longer decay so I can choose to mash on them and fill the space or play on their intricacies in more quiet moments. The clarity of drums and bass on the album really came down to choices with the mixing. It’s not the traditional shoegaze sound, which has drums and bass lower in the mix and an overall more mid-range sound, but the album does reflect more how we sound live as a band and I love listening to it. 

The Deli: Bonus round! Should you choose to play, name three songs (or albums, or bands, or whatever…it’s totally your choice) that you and/or other band members are especially fond of, but that the average Phantom Wave listener may find it surprising to hear that you like.

IAN: Sometimes I listen to quieter singer-songwriter stuff–Jessica Pratt, Damien Jurado and Cass McComb. As for louder bands, there’s too many to name, but I recently enjoyed Nothing’s “Beat Around the Bush.”

Rachel: I like Nicki Minaj for the attitude, also Robyn for the attitude.

Yanek: Aphex Twin. I’ve been a fan for over 20 years. I especially love the song “Tha” from Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

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