“My name is Nelson Brodhead, and welcome to Phantom.” — (leave) nelson b, “Post Mortem”
Ohio trip-hop artist Nelson Brodhead released 1.0: The K-Kwik, his debut record as (leave) nelson b, in February of 2019, but his latest project may be our best glimpse yet at the personality behind the production. He introduces himself for the first time in a low echo at the end of the first track, and from there, 2.0 Phantom unfolds–it’s a different kind of project, and ironically, it’s also his most community-driven to date.
The album is built on samples from his Lonely Ghost Records labelmates, and that roster of mostly-emo artists gets reimagined in chilled-out instrumental fashion. Brodhead’s sense of humor comes through in track titles that riff on the originals; a song by Funeral Homes becomes “Post-Mortem” and “Scooby” by Superdestroyer becomes “Scrappy,” to name a couple. But more importantly, each one showcases and develops his signature style.
From The K-Kwik to now, he’s grown that distinctive sound, starting with crisp beats and high keyboard twinkle, sometimes layered with sleigh bells (or are they tambourine hits?). He works wonders with just the sequenced drum and synth, but mix in some vocal fragments and guitar loops and suddenly you’ve got something richer and more organic. It’s every bit as cool, but more personal–groovy and meditative as ever, but not as remote.
On “Vincent Adultman,” snappy hi-hats and stuttering vocals temper the existential dread of “Princess Caroline” by Superdestroyer, but there’s still a sense of nervousness in the steady kick drum, especially when the rest of the track filters out. On “The Change We Needed,” Brodhead expands on the smooth acoustic instrumental of “The Change You Wanted” by Arise, Sir!, giving it a more dynamic flow without sacrificing the original feeling of melancholy.
His mixes generally lend evenness and calm to the material he draws from, but Brodhead also has a talent for taking samples in new and unexpected directions. You can hear it most clearly in “Just Lie Kevin,” a track that takes the iterative process of sampling a step further, almost like an exquisite corpse drawing. Here, Brodhead samples “Just Like Kevin” by haxxer, itself a stripped down cover of “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. He pitches down the vocal and reharmonizes it in a more minor feel, twisting it into something darker and more desperate.
On the flip side, “Daddy Issues” converts Father of the Year’s chaotic, screaming “Spring-Heeled Jack” into a much gentler ride. Muted guitar feedback creates tension and unease, but the bass and vocals rock back and forth from note to note, and the whole thing fades into the album’s bouncy outro.
As a unique, genre-bending instrumental album, Phantom deserves a place in your rotation of music to chill to. Beyond that, it’s a prime example of the subtle magic that can happen when a skilled producer like Brodhead harnesses the creative depth of a collective like Lonely Ghost Records.