Smile Politely

“Steampunk” encapsulates controlled creative chaos of The Phantom Broadcast

Call it what you want — post-punk indie-alt, progressive-baroque, or purely experimental rock – The Phantom Broadcast are unparalleled in their innovative work, and one of the most imaginative acts to spawn from Champaign-Urbana in recent memory.  

On Friday, October 7th, the group will drop their new single “Steampunk,” along with a corresponding lyric video from their upcoming self-titled album. I got a chance to listen to the single beforehand, and what listeners can expect is a instrumentally lush and tempestuous ride through the creative mind of bandleader Evan Opitz.

Founded in 2011 as a solo project by Opitz, The Phantom Broadcast evolved into a band in 2013, with several member changes throughout the years. When I asked Evan about the history of the project, he mentioned that “Members come and go strictly because of how life is always changing. So in order to keep the group going, it’s necessary to adapt. The good thing is everyone sort of works within a circle. I don’t need to audition people because I’ve played with them before and I can see their abilities and their desires musically.”

The Phantom Broadcast is hard at work on a new release to which “Steampunk” will call home. Their upcoming LP will be self-titled, and feature some of the most proficient and accomplished musicians from the Champaign-Urbana area. Although Opitz has recently made the move up north to Chicago, he very much feels a sense of C-U on this new record.

“Everyone who plays on the record is from Champaign. It was recorded here, so I would consider this LP a Champaign act. I wrote most of this from working within, rather than listening to other musicians for influence. Obviously the influences will surface on their own, but I wasn’t actively trying to latch on to other artists’ ideas so much as trying to discover these things from the inside, organically. There was also a lot of creative liberty given to other members and collaborators. Nick Soria helped me right “Steampunk,” James wrote his own drum parts, and Emily Blue sings on half of it and came up with her own backing vocals.”

Production-wise, Opitz believes that this new album sounds “far different” when compared to their previous record. “It was recorded to sound as live and raw as possible with very little effects on vocals, guitar, et cetera. It has the edge of the older records, but with the refined compositional approach of the new. It’s a culmination stylistically of everything we’ve released thus far.”

I asked Evan about which genre he would categorize the new LP as, and the answer I got was both unexpected and though-provoking. “This record is called The Phantom Broadcast… it feels like the most natural release, and it wasn’t trying to fit into any specific category of genre. Genre-crossing has always been a staple of our sound, and I feel like with each album, we move closer to fluidity in our ‘polystylism.’”  

“Steampunk” provides a short, but lasting taste at the apex of The Phantom Broadcast’s latest sound. The lyrics reveal fragility in walking into the unknown, whilst being prepared for whatever life gives and takes.

“Wishing for a second chance
Misplace by life unwasted
Wandering the streets at night
Pretending that I’m wasted
Even if you bring me back
We both amount to dying
Wash my heart rid clean the blood
My crushed up yellow mind sings”

– From “Steampunk”

Regarding his song-writing, Opitz found that his life sometimes ends up echoing his music. “Lyrically, the subject matter was mostly written after the music. But the actual topics I found to mean more in my life after writing them. Eerily, I found things that I wrote into my songs to occur after writing them, rather than prior.”

Musically, “Steampunk” begins as a rollercoaster ride of fluctuating guitars, palpitating drums, driving bass, and glistening horns before the installation of Opitz’s gentle vocals and Hacker’s biting viola lines. The strength of this song comes from its ability to transition seamlessly between differing time signatures. It is a juxtaposing track that serves as a solid jam as well as an elegant excursion accompanied by opulent layers of instrumentation. The future of progressive rock has arrived, and its name is The Phantom Broadcast.

Engineered by Colin Althaus and mastered by Rick Fritz at Audiotree, “Steampunk” will be released to the public in audio form along with an accompanying music video made by Evan with animations created by his sister Elle Opitz. The song will be available on the band’s website and bandcamp tomorrow. Look for the new self-titled album from The Phantom Broadcast later this Winter 2016.

Personnel involved in the production of the song “Steampunk”

Evan Opitz, Guitar/Vox
Nick Soria, Bass
James Sims, Drums
Joe Hacker, Viola
Cesar Mendoza, Trombone
Josh Billingsley, Trumpet,
Colin Althaus, Add’l Guitars/Engineering
Emily Blue, Add’l Vox

More Articles