I don’t know about you, but I feel like it’s been a long time coming for Phantogram. Maybe that’s just because the New York two piece has found a way to write songs that stick with you and make a deeper, lasting impact on the heart and mind than their counterparts. Or, maybe they’ve just spent their years up to this point to the fullest. Their 2009 freshman LP on Barsuk was startling in its unique, fresh take on electronic rock. Made up of rhythmic, danceable electronic beats and layered, driving guitars, never once did the two sacrifice one for the dominance of the other. In result, it was an altogether refreshing experience. In 2011, they returned to our audiovisual spectrum with Nightlife, an EP that does more in six songs than most records do in double. We also received the band’s most commercially successful single to date, “Don’t Move”.
With a growing fan-base and an evident necessity for bigger venues and bigger sound, it was only a matter of time before the band transitioned to Universal Republic. Last fall, we got a taste with a self-titled EP sampler, showcasing “Black Out Days” and increasing overall waiting time anxiety for LP2. But Phantogram saved the best of their newest session for last, and now with Voices in its full form, we see Phantogram the bigger, badder, and altogether more powerful band they were always meant to be. Voices is a platform, and from it, Phantogram are only getting better and better. You better see them at tiny venues while you can - won’t be long before they are headlining festivals.
Don’t get me wrong - “Don’t Move” is great. It’s a wonderful use of sampling and an addictive, catchy hook that you’ll hit repeat on more than once. But this is 2014, and Phantogram are too big and too good for baiting hooks and repetition. Now is the time for driving, complex pop craftsmanship, and that’s exactly what you find with Voices. While “Black Out Days” was a brilliant taster, “Fall In Love” may be the best single the band has ever written. With its psychedelic, spiraling mixture of samples, visceral bass, and Sarah Barthel’s godly voice, the song is hand-forged for perfect synergy and lasting impact. After two more excellent tracks from the EP, the album descends into the blistering darkness of “Howling At The Moon”, one of the most driving cuts we’ve seen from Phantogram yet. The song is pure rhythm and impossible not to dance to, alternating seamlessly between that all-encompassing drum circle of a verse and the Josh Carter guitar-laden chorus.
After the skittering echoes of “Bad Dreams”, the textbook Phantogram ballad “Bill Murray” slows things down for Josh and Sarah to break your heart. Carter’s slinking guitar lines add an organic outer layer to the electronic heartbreak found underneath. But Phantogram pull the rug out from under everything on “I Don’t Blame You”, easily the best Josh Carter-spearheaded track Phantogram has produced yet. His melancholy, weather-worn vocals are juxtaposed with furious drums and murderous syncopation. Then it’s up to EP track “Celebrating Nothing” and the beyond gorgeous “My Only Friend” to wrap up Phantogram’s near-perfect sophomore effort.
Bigger, better, faster, stronger, Phantogram throw all their cards on Voices. The effort shows - this is the quintessential Phantogram record as we currently know them. As they head out on tour in support and show the world how much they’ve grown, there’s no question that the horizon is wide open for this excellent duo. The future is bright, though they seem to prefer the dark. Phantogram have come a long way, but they are just getting started.
Voices is out this week on Republic. Phantogram is heading out on tour in support of Voices shortly, and you can catch them at Weekend 1 of Sasquatch! Music Festival!