Despite giving over half of the album to the public earlier than its release, Phantogram, who hail from Saratoga Springs, have created a beautiful electronic album that surprises and excites with every turn.
At the end of last year I reviewed the electronic duo’s self-titled EP; four tracks which can be found on ‘Voices’. In the EP, the songs at times can fall a little flat, but in context in this new album, produced by John Hill (Santigold, Rihanna, Shakira) they take on a new life and provide a beautiful flow to the other songs. For example, at first I didn’t particularly like the song ‘Never Going Home’- on the EP it sounded to me rather limp and lifeless – but now it suits very well as a bridge between the heavy sample-based hip-hop single ‘Fall In Love´ and the mellow slow-burner ‘The Day You Died’.
The opening track ‘Nothing But Trouble’ is introduced with a squealing feedback-like sample before it erupts into a tense rhythm punctuated by what sounds like brass samples. It’s a loud and powerful song – probably louder than anything on Phantogram’s first album ‘Eyelid Movies’. But each song on ‘Voices’ has a life of its own – a different vibe and style to the song that precedes it. ‘Nothing But Trouble’, ‘Celebrating Nothing’ and ‘Fall In Love’ are dancey and thrilling, but then there are songs on the record such as ‘Never Going Home’ and the absolutely stunning ‘Bill Murray’ (with Phantogram being quoted as wanting the actor to feature in a music video for this song) that are fragile and naked, swapping pounding rhythms and blistering synths with sparse beats and delicate tones.
‘Voices’ is a sequel to ‘Eyelid Movies’ and actually has a number of allusions to its predecessor. The first verse of ‘Nothing But Trouble’ has Sarah Barthel singing “everyone I know is not around and Lucy’s still been crawling underground”, making reference to the lyrics of Phantogram’s breakthrough hit ‘When I’m Small’. ‘Bad Dreams’, whilst showcasing Barthel’s amazing vocal range, has a guitar part in the chorus which, to me, sounds rather similar to ‘Let Me Go’ from their first album. Even the electronic drum and synth sounds used in the new album sound a lot like the previous one – only now that the duo have experience, they are more effectively used and have more of a dynamic and tonal range.
Also, like songs such as ‘Running From The Cops’ and ‘You Are The Ocean’ from ‘Eyelid Movies’, there are a couple of songs on ‘Voices’ where guitarist Josh Carter takes up lead vocals. Carter doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world and it appears that he is aware of this, once again soaking his voice with effects for a more synthetic feel. Perhaps this is cheating, but it doesn’t seem to detract too much from the music. Barthel is obviously the stronger singer though.
The duo have created a solid album packed full of different moods and twists, constantly changing the feel of the direction. One minute, you are bopping along to ‘Fall In Love’, then drifting off to ‘Bill Murray’, and then feeling the tense and slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of album closer ‘My Only Friend’. I just wish that they put on a studio version of the song ‘Faces Cry‘ that they play as an introduction to their live set – it may have been a better introduction to the album than ‘Nothing But Trouble‘. But that doesn’t matter too much. In my opinion, Phantogram have achieved the 3D visceral effect through their music that their name refers to – a layered and structured sound evoking a number of emotions and painting images in the mind. Phantogram have upped their game and have proven themselves to be a talented electronic band with this album. You’ll fall in love with them in no time.