23 February 2014

voices || phantogram || 2014

It's a rare and beautiful thing to pull off a truly genre-bending album while retaining a core sound, and that is exactly what Phantogram has done here. I found this album in my inbox, sent by a friend whose recommendations I trust (as he has yet to mislead me; it was he who convinced me to give Daft Punk another chance when Random Access Memories was released last year). I was expecting synthpop based superficially on the band's name and the album cover, but the first track proved a pleasant surprise and the rest of the album went with the flow.

"Nothing But Trouble" is a straight-up trip hop song, the likes of which I've heard nothing similar to since '90s tracks by Sneaker Pimps, Portishead, and Tricky. All the grinding, industrial elements are over a crunchy drum track, which contrasts very nicely with Sarah Barthel's airy vocals.

It's at "Never Going Home" that the album takes its first surprising turn. Suddenly, the trip hop has become shoegaze-style noisy indie rock with Josh Carter singing and sounding very much like a modern Phil Collins. The lyrics are a beautiful desperate plea to a "dying" lover, though it's not explained if this impending death is literal, or merely the potential end of a relationship. It works either way, much like one of my favorite songs of all time: Shakespears Sister's "Stay." Definitely the high point of the album for me.

Barthel is back on vocals for "The Day You Died," another breakup tune but with more traditional pop sensibilities. The trip hop beat still looms in the background.

"Howl At The Moon" is a flawless trip hop track that stands above its peers thanks to its slightly higher-than-average BPM for that genre. Again, Barthel's vocals are flawless and contrast perfectly with the instruments.

Not sure what I was expecting from a song called "Bill Murray," but according to Carter: "We named it ’Bill Murray’ because we always pictured a sad Bill Murray for the visuals of that song. We want him to be in the music video." Hmm, okay, cool. Very pretty downtempo song; I'm sure Bill is honored.

There's something here for lovers of all kinds of alternative pop music. While not every single track has a memorable personality, there are some shining moments, and the overall listening experience is pleasant, almost soothing.