Album Review: Phantogram – Eyelid Movies

Street beat, trip pop duo Phantogram teased North America for almost a year with a mere, but terribly addictive, five song EP. The pair from Saratoga Springs, New York, may have left groove junkies everywhere without a fix, but just as they promised, their debut album, Eyelid Movies, is almost here (out February 9 on Barsuk), and is without doubt worth the wait.

Since coming together in 2007, guitarist Joshua Carter and keyboardist Sarah Barthel have only traveled upward. Between opening for acts like Zero 7, Ra Ra Riot and Yeasayer, and sparking the creation of a spanking new genre, ‚Äústreet beat/psyche pop,” if Phantogram doesn’t leave 2010 with multiple awards and some sort of Best New Artist title, there’s officially no justice in the world. Armed with some samples and a few instruments, Carter and Barthel say it all in their name. The duo craft an illusion of depth and perspective with complex, layered sounds, coming across more like a full 5-member band rather than a couple of best friends rockin’ out with a lap top, keyboard and guitar. Even when they went by the already-taken name, Charlie Everywhere, Barthel and Carter epitomized their current title (which is basically those 2-D red and blue images that pop out as 3-D), creating a musical “soundscape” with ever digitized twists and acoustic turns.

Eyelid Movies is everything and more that’s expected to come from Phantogram. Considering the two write and record in a barn 45 minutes upstate from their residence, the 11-track work sounds more like a swankily produced fourth record of a decade-long experienced indie band. An extension of their EP minus “Voices,” the album feature the hit singles “Mouthful Of Diamonds” and “Running From the Cops.” “Mouthful Of Diamonds” is one of the catchiest I’m-done-with-you songs that’s emerged in a long time. Backed by a magnetic beat and silky guitar, Barthel sings with graceful confidence, sure to get her point across with “The world is not around because of you. You know I’m not around because of you.”

“Running From The Cops” is just as enticing, with a whomping and wavering synth added to Carter’s distorted underwater vocals conveyed with all the paranoia of someone bombarded with the past.

“When I’m Small,” also included on the EP, is an impressive balance between upbeat dance and downhearted somberness. Carter’s guitar is so groovy, it could be laid over any beat and immediately turn a song from ordinary to party-worthy (the video features a softer version of “When I’m Small”).

“As Far As I Can See” is definitely the hip hop track of the record, rooted with a fast hitting drums, chopped up vocals and 60s soul choir samples. “Bloody Palms” shows off the duo’s indie rock side, as Carter’s high drawn-out voice creates a triumphant atmosphere over the skip-beat and shoegaze guitar. Eyelid Movies comes to a close with the bizarre goodness of “10,000 Claps.” What could have been a typical dream pop song transforms into an artwork of digital manipulation. Reversed synth and rain-like applause layers over simple piano, ending the record in beauty.

Phantogram is currently touring the East Coast, so while you’re waiting for them to head to Seattle, check out the full live recording of their set at The Cutting Room Studios NYC, where they recorded exclusively for KEXP at CMJ 2009. And look for Eyelid Movies in stores next week.

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