- At first Thrown Out of Drama School was a nasty shock. I had previously only heard the great "Unperfect Love Mix" of Phantom/Ghost's "Perfect Lovers," and I had no idea that the seething, aching microhouse of that track wasn't the duo's normal sound. But recent albums by the duo of Thies Mynther and Dirk von Lowtzow have stuck closer to the melodic nous and sardonic wit of John Cale than, say, Superpitcher. This album cuts things even closer to the bone, with nine slim songs composed of just von Lowtzow's voice and Mynther's prepared piano (with the occasional vocal assistance from Michaela Meise). It's not exactly the kind of music Dial is known for, but there's a wit and canniness here that makes Phantom/Ghost appealing nonetheless.
That voice might be your first stumbling block with Phantom/Ghost; von Lowtzow often has a certain plummy, self-satisfied theatricality in his delivery that will probably set some people's teeth on edge. When he spends the title track archly amused by his habit of "loitering, with intent" or breezily proclaims "I was always allured by the haute couture / Although I never really learned how to sew" on "The Beautiful Fall" it's so unserious, almost mocking that at first it might grate. But above all else von Lowtzow knows what he's doing as a performer and it's not long before half the appeal of a song like "All Manner of Things Shall Be Well" is the way he pronounces the word "somnambulists."
It helps that Thrown Out of Drama School leavens its raised-eyebrow humour with just the right amount of seriousness. "The Process (After Brion Gysin)" isn't just a highbrow adaption of Gysin's hallucinatory desert narrative, it's the loveliest thing here by far. Von Lowtzow and Meise's singing gains a certain incantatory, haunting quality as they recite the formalized, repetitive lyrics. Mynther's prepared piano is especially lovely and strange there and on the brief "Meshes of the Afternoon," while "Ornithology" strikes a fine balance between the camp and starkly moving sides of Phantom/Ghost's work.
Usually a song as great and strangely moving as "The Process (After Brion Gysin)" would stick out like a sore thumb in the context of an often flippant, lighthearted record like this one. You'd want the band to pick a mode or a mood and stick with it, but what makes Thrown Out of Drama School such an interesting little record is that going from that song to the jaunty, japing "Thrown Out of Drama School" not only avoids disrupting the mood, it makes both songs stronger. Von Lowtzow and Mynther are the rare artists capable of wielding such a varied emotional palette without ever seeming insincere or ill-judged, whether because of their strong songwriting or just a knack for knowing how far they can go. This is a band, after all, that ends their fourth album with a cover of Right Said Fred's "You're My Mate" that sounds like both a touching expression of brotherhood and also an attempt to get into somebody's pants.
01. The Charge of a Light Brigade
02. The Process (after Brion Gysin)
03. Thrown Out of Drama School
04. All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well
06. Meshes of the Afternoon
07. The Beautiful Fall
09. You're My Mate