Sondre Lerche is a master of melody. His previous album, Two Way Monologue, was a great collection of sweet pop that recalled the best of the Beach Boys, Billy Joel, and Nick Drake. With his new album, Phantom Punch, Lerche abandons what made him exceptional by venturing into new territory. Those fans who expected an extension of his previous work will be surprised. This album finds Lerche trading in lovely melodies for a looser, more rock ’n roll, sound. The guitars are loud and prominent, while the drums attack the ears with merciless abandon. Melodies still come easy to Lerche, but that’s not his focus anymore. You get the impression that he’s trying to prove he can rock with the best of them.
The songs on Phantom Punch show that he can’t. As one song fades into the next, they all begin to sound the same. The crescendos and thrashing chords multiply, but leave the listener with nothing more enjoyable than a lot of noise. There are moments on Phantom Punch when Lerche duplicates what made him great in the first place. On “Say It All,” everything clicks. The chorus is so infectious that I’m surprised that Lerche and the producers didn’t pick this song as the album’s first single. “Airport Taxi Reception” is another great track, and so is “The Tape.” The problem is that aside from these three exceptional tunes, there isn’t much to like. Even “Tragic Mirror,” one of the album’s few slow songs, doesn’t manage to get off the ground. You keep waiting for that old Lerche magic to appear, but it never reaches its destination and just takes a detour into boredom instead.
Lerche comes across as a competent guitarist and a good songwriter. But this is not where his talent lies. He’s a pop singer, an exceptional creator of alternatively happy and melancholic pop tunes that everyone can enjoy. There’s a lot of sincere effort on this album and sometimes the songs work, but mostly they don’t. By the time the album was finished, all I wanted to do was listen to Two Way Monologue. Phantom Punch is too fast-paced and too monotonous for its own good. Here’s hoping that on his next release, Sondre Lerche returns to his real talents.