EP Review: Phantogram – Self-Titled

It’s certainly been a fantastic couple of years for Phantogram. Their infectious beat-based electro pop has captured the attention of many curious ears, including Big Boi of Outkast and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, who have both invited the duo to collaborate on their latest albums.

After their first full-length album Eyelid Movies dropped in 2009, followed by the release of the ‘Nightlife’ EP, you would think that it’s about time for a new album? Nope, yet another EP. But that’s ok, because it’s a good ‘un.

                Sarah Barthel’s ethereal and eerie vocals open up Phantogram’s self-titled EP in the song ‘Black Out Days’; her sampled voice beautifully echoes against a groovy electronic beat, setting the tone for the record. The end of this song for me is the highlight of the EP – a gorgeous piano line pulses underneath Barthel’s beautiful voice, contrasting against the chaotic beats that are heard earlier in the track. It’s simple, it’s haunting and it’s beautiful. The fourth and final song, ‘Celebrating Nothing’, is just as good as the first track. Once again, contrast is a theme – the lyrics are sombre and at times downright depressing (“Give me a reason to stay alive, I’ve got the feeling we’re gonna die”), whilst the accompanying music is actually uplifting and danceable and would not sound out of place at an indie nightclub. It’s a combination which works surprisingly well.

The guitar work of Josh Carter has always been my favourite element of Phantogram’s sound, and this is ever-present in the EP. From the straightforward but memorable opening riff in ‘The Day You Died’ to the bright and spacey tones in ‘Celebrating Nothing’, Carter shows that he is a versatile guitarist without overshadowing the fragile sound of Barthel’s vocals.

The only real gripe I have with this release is the second song, ‘Never Going Home’. It’s a slow and dreary attempt of a ballad, which tries to push to some sort of climax towards the end, but actually goes nowhere. Plus, Phantogram should be doing better than churning cheesy lyrics such as “if this is love, I’m never going home”. It is rather disappointing that they felt the need to put this song on the record when there are much better live versions of unreleased songs floating around on YouTube such as ‘Howl at the Moon’ and ‘Nothing But Trouble’ – both of which would not sound out of place on this EP, and would actually make it a stronger record than it is.

The ‘Phantogram’ EP is a good effort but does not come close to the brilliant ‘Eyelid Movies or Nightlife’. Fortunately, the duo have recently announced that their second full-length album, ‘Voices’, will be released in February of next year. Let’s hope that the duo will have upped their game for this release – they certainly have a lot of ideas and potential but they need to deliver more to establish themselves as an important electronic band of today, because they really do deserve that position.



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