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Phantom Posse
Forever Underground Matthew Horton , May 5th, 2020 07:36

Eric Littmann's Phantom Posse – feat. LA rapper iLoveMakonnen and Laetitia Tamko aka Vagabon – is a dreamy trip through the subterranean city, finds Mathew Horton

After several attempts, New York producer Eric Littmann – the Phantom Posse collective’s linchpin – has accidentally made an album for the times, a warped reverie of a soundtrack for empty urban landscapes. That’s what these fourteen cuts of disorientating ambience feel like, anyway – or does everything feel like that these days?

Everything feels like that these days. Really, Forever Underground falls into a continuum we’ve enjoyed for decades now, drifting electronica working its way through hip-hop, Balearic house, glitch and dubstep, always a sense of gauzy nostalgia even as it’s pointing a way forward. It’s like Boards of Canada settling on a melody, or Burial – on acid! Hypnagogic, it used to be called.

But even something as loose-limbed and dreamy as this represents new focus from Littmann. A statistical bioinformatician by day, he’s reserved downtime for a clutch of Phantom Posse albums that have ranged from Home’s jazzy slacker pop in 2015 to Be True’s polite textures a year later, without finding any real heft. Forever Underground has substance, thematic structure, the occasional discernible song, even as tracks blur around you like time-lapse film of a city at dusk.

That city is NYC itself and the hazy theme is its buildings and the graffiti daubed on them, tags directly celebrated on ‘[ZNO on Canal]’, ‘[FLASH + MISS17 dreamteam]’ and ‘[SEB09 on the bridge]’, where jets of noise, synth throbs and vocals washed out to the point of wordlessness are our dislocated guides to the lonely metropolitan vistas. Another aerosol hero, ‘[RD in the tunnel]’, is a little warmer, bringing Wilson-esque harmonies and a comforting kind of melancholy.

Dragging Littmann away from all this introspection is a host of guest vocalists, including early collaborator, LA rapper iLoveMakonnen, who murmurs around the lovely, blissed-out tune of ‘Changing’, and Vagabon who bursts out of nowhere with the jaunty, nursery-rhyme bounce of ‘It’s All You’, a pleasant jolt from the lysergic shuffles leading up to it. Perhaps the most beguiling contribution comes from Alex G associate Emily Yacina, cooing over the skipping beats and phased Ultra Vivid Scene-like guitars of ‘Find You Out’ before being overcome by the ebbing and flowing fractals of psychedelic mist.

That’s the effect Forever Underground has. It worms into your head, gets you seeing sounds. We all need to escape from time to time.

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