“Rhino Records” on War of the Wakening Phantoms

Illustration by Trevor Anderson

All hail the modern psychedelic concept album!

The High Dials emerged from the glittering chrysalis in 2003 with A New Devotion, a sprawling, atmospheric album of freewheeling cosmic grooves linked by a linear narrative. On their brilliant follow-up, War Of The Wakening Phantoms, the Dials keep to their dramatic leanings, weaving a tapestry of celestial pop numbers that keep to the tradition of lyrical storytelling and musical adventure. Formed in Montreal, that northern hotbed of keenly intelligent, unwittingly hip rock ‘n’ roll, the Dials sound instead as if they were birthed on foggy Scottish moors or some stormy Irish coastline. This is Druid music—sun on blades of grass and white lace against a girl’s bare leg, pretty, pagan melodies perfect for May Day celebrations and orgiastic fertility rites.

The band has an obvious affinity with its British Isles brothers, particularly the musings of Belle And Sebastian, Super Furry Animals, and Spiritualized, but the grand heft of the North American continent keeps this sound a bit more grounded. The inspiration here is green earth, not the outer edges of space, and the journey leads to inward introspection. The High Dials—singer/songwriter/guitarist Trevor Anderson, Rishi Dhir (bass/sitar), Robbie MacArthur (guitar), Robb Surridge (drums), and Eric Dougherty (keys)—know when to cull their inspirations (Leonard Cohen lament, Donovan swing) and when to spin their own yarns. Deftly mixed by Dave Bianco (Teenage Fanclub) in the City of Angels, Wakening Phantoms is one of the most pleasant albums in recent memory—melancholy in only the sweetest of ways, full of loping, giddy choruses and a pastoral, utopian feel. Put in on and you’ll go dreaming.