After diving headfirst with The Faces Down Quartet into jazzy pop on last year's Duper Sessions, Sondre Lerche has downsized his backing band on the Tony Hoffer-produced Phantom Punch. The result is a more contemporary-sounding offering that packs a much bigger, um, punch as it moves Lerche's songs out of the hotel lounge and into the rock club. While the dumb photo of Lerche wearing three pairs of sunglasses inside Phantom Punch suggests that he still has some growing up to do, the 11 songs prove that the young Norwegian singer-songwriter has the pop chops to confidently head in whatever direction the voices in his head push him.
Phantom Punch's peaks of enjoyment follow the album's spikes in volume and tempo, but Lerche's fourth full-length also benefits from his ability to mix things up. "Tragic Mirror" isn't a highlight, but the mellow acoustic number's placement between the disco-rock title track and the Arctic Monkeys-esque "Face The Blood" gives the bookends even more power than if they'd both simply followed the peppy pop of "Say It All." Phantom Punch's palette contains dollops of everyone from The Clash to The Sea And Cake to name-your-favorite-shoegaze-band, but most of all, the album's freewheeling energy brings to mind Supergrass' finest moments. The untamed "The Tape" is the most memorable rocker of the bunch, though the love-song-with-Hitchcock-references "She's Fantastic" sports the kind of playfulness that makes every spin sound better than the one before. Lerche is probably already plotting his next stylistic move, but here's hoping he'll give this catchy pop-rock stuff at least one more go-around.