Duncan Sheik was introduced to the world with his hit “Barely Breathing” in 1996 and in a Sarah MacLachlan world, people responded positively to his sensitive male take on the singer/songwriter genre. However, the promise of his self-titled debut faded after his admirable but flawed second album Humming failed to go much of anywhere. Sheik disappeared from the musical landscape that had now turned towards the angry male for examples. Now, with the elegant and quietly adventurous Phantom Moon, Sheik focuses on what he can do well, and seems content to make music for no one but himself.
Unlike his two previous albums, Sheik has handed lyrical duties to playwright Steven Sater, and has chosen to expand on his abilities as a musician. The combination is a flawless one, with Sheik’s subdued and thoughtful music complimenting Sater’s reflective words. It feels like the product of one mind without disparaging either as an artist.
Phantom Moon maintains the same sort of contemplative restraint that was present on both Humming and Duncan Sheik. Sheik’s sweetly melancholy voice and earnest melodies always seem to know more than they want to say, like on the touching “Far Away”. While his whispering voice is sometimes overly solemn, Sheik has the ability to make listeners feel without ever sinking into melodrama. His sensitive use of strings add to the longing present in every song
Sater’s lyrics are a perfect vehicle for Sheik’s particular musical style, poetic and perceptive without ever feeling forced. Although the gloomy preoccupations with love and sorrow imagery may be too much for some with lines like “Love’s just a waste of tears on someone who is missing,” from “This Is How My Heart Heard”, none of the songs lack in hope. Even though Phantom Moon is mostly pensive in tone, it still has an uplifting beauty that can’t be ignored.
Phantom Moon will sadly be overlooked by many since Duncan Sheik is viewed a bit unfairly too mellow to stand out. Still, those that have followed Sheik know what a talent he is, and Phantom Moon is a work of haunting grace. Just on the promise of this release, it’s already evident it will be exciting to see what he does next.