When you think of Phantogram, you’d never imagine the source of their sound would be a rural setting. Surprisingly, the pair—Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter—record their music in a barn in upstate New York, near where they grew up. Combining an electronic pulse with steamy vocals, their music is more suitable for a late-night, big city drive than a rustic getaway.
Their latest album, Voices, showcases more maturity and focus than their previous work. This time they seem to delve into a heavier sound with a lot more dark, bass-laden tracks and a slew of down-tempo songs that are as close to ballads as the electronic duo could get. Whereas their previous album, 2010′s Eyelid Movies, displayed a variety of styles, Voices lacks a bit of spontaneity, but gives us a more cohesive collection of music with more attention to details.
Right off the bat, you’re hit with the powerful, high-energy Nothing But Trouble which sets the stage for the rest of the album’s haunting tone. The most recognizable single for which they’ve recently released a video, Fall In Love, is probably the most rhythmic and dance-worthy track with jagged synths and a pounding bassline, but also switches gears to lighter sections until you’re hit again with the aggressive chorus. Shortly after that, the album takes a more subdued, almost somber tone until the very end. The curiously titled Bill Murray is a passionate track that harnesses Phantogram’s dreaminess, but is more melancholy than the comedian it is named after.
Apart from Celebrating Nothing, the second half of the album is a lot more relaxed than the first, leaving you with the feeling that the duo may have packed their heavy-hitters early on to get you hooked and then ended with the more introspective pieces. The final track, My Only Friend, leaves you with the sullen, repeating refrain, “You’re all I have/my only friend.” All in all, after a full listen to the album, it is easy to forget the calmer tunes they may have spent more time on when the singles are simply much more sonically dynamic.
Though Voices may not be as diverse as fans might expect, it’s the subtleties that shine. Instead of focusing heavily on the production, the songwriting and vocals play more a more integral part throughout the album. (Hence, the album title?) The balance of both artists’ contributions displays the strong sonic connection that Barthel and Carter share. The overall vibe is that the pair have found a middle ground where the hits highlight their instrumental technicalities while their more reflective songs showcase their vocal and songwriting abilities. Phantogram have delivered enough of a new direction on Voices to avoid being defined as just another electronic band, with the creativity and talent to evolve further.