The Phone Booth – Roman

The Phone Booth is a lo-fi indie rock band from Santa Barbara, California consisting of Michael Easbey (vocals, guitar, primary songwriter), Josh Blumenthal (bass), Ben Pecorari (drums) and Tony Pennington (guitar). We first wrote about the outfit back in November, where we were very impressed by the range and emotion of the band’s first two singles, released in preparation of their debut full-length album, Roman.

The record, which has now been released, is not a bona fide concept album, though is dedicated to the Easbey’s late best friend Steven Roman Gonzales, and is built around voicemail recordings of his words. With plain simplicity lended weight by hindsight, the samples anchor the thematic resonance of the songs and provide a counterpoint to their frustration and confusion. This is an album about loss, yes, but more than that, it is a testament to the quiet joy of friendship. As Max Burke describes in the press release: “The existence of Roman is a direct rebuttal to Gonzales’ skepticism from years before—a meticulous, candid and tender exultation.”

After the poignant opening sample of Gonzales in ‘Radio Silence’, ‘The Freshman’ breaks out with a wistful energy, Gonzales’ words haunting the lulls in instrumentation, and the growing ‘Boston + Santa Cruz’ applies a tender restraint. The tracks set the tone of the record, where loss is matched by an equal and opposite sense of luminosity, as though for all of the suffering, the shining truth of the relationship—that it was challenging and special—refuses to fade to black.

As we described in our preview, ‘Ballad of Indifference’ is a “slow burning slice of lo-fi rock, the smoulder eventually drawing flame which quickly transforms into a hectic blaze of emotional release,” and follow up ‘Swim in Oceans’ “bursts into life from the ashes” in a rattling frenzy that brings to mind No Age. Though employing different strategies, both tracks are a testament to the transcendent catharsis of movement and energy, as though to register pain as motion and noise is to make it more manageable, less opaque and enveloping.

Representing something of a centrepiece for the record, ‘Healthcare’ approaches this idea most directly. Opening with Gonzalez’s uncomfortably direct questioning of Easbey’s dedication to making music, the song develops into a slow-burning love song that’s shows a strange blend of critical and caring that only love can offer, putting to bed the prior accusations in a kind of tortured, elated retrospection.

The spacious beginnings of ‘Dust’ herald the most patient and understated track of the record, every promise of crescendo or breakdown never quite coming to fruition, and, despite its clear heft, follow-up ‘Ghost’ could be described in much the same way. Rising from ominous feedback and marching drums that bring to mind The Twilight Sad’s unsettling rhythms, the track has a magnetic pull that drags Easbey’s vocals toward what is surely a climactic breakdown, though again the song plateaus before this precipitates.

To crown the album, The Phone Booth offer ‘Comfortable’ as one final epic simmer, where conflicting emotions—confusion and certainty, fondness and loss—centre on the final moments of palliative care. If the simplicity and forthright nature of the lyrics bring into relief the reality of the situation, then the soaring sound shows reality in all of its human depth and fervour, a desperation that will never end, impermanence as the everlasting experience.

Roman is out now and you can get it from the Phone Booth Bandcamp page.