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Phantogram “Voices” – Album Review

Republic (2014)

Previously a cult concern, New York duo Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, aka Phantogram, have become inescapable of late, gracing everything from razor commercials to the MTV reboot of Teen Wolf, collaborating with Big Boi on three songs from his solo debut and The Flaming Lips’ on their space-rock opus The Terror, and courting the young adult crowd by contributing to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack.

Produced by John Hill (M.I.A., Santigold), their second studio effort, Voices, might just help them to capitalise on their surprising wave of high-profile exposure. Indeed, from the bombastic breakbeat of opener “Nothing But Trouble” to the spacious synth balladry of closer “My Only Friend,” any new converts to their brooding electro-rock sound should find plenty to sustain their interest here.

“Fall In Love” is a hypnotic blend of emphatic hip-hop beats, ghostly pitch-shifted samples and ethereal dream-pop melodies which sounds like the missing link between Cocteau Twins and Purity Ring. “Bill Murray,” a gorgeous alt-country affair which gives Voices a welcome change of pace, is every bit as magnetic as the sardonic Hollywood actor after whom it’s named. Elsewhere, “Bad Dreams” is a brilliantly murky fusion of Bristolian trip-hop, murky guitar twangs and jerky R&B which suggests Phantogram’s next brush with the film world should be a David Lynch one.

Barthel’s soaring ethereal tones remain the star of the show, particularly the way in which they glide over the swooning shoegaze of “Celebrating Nothing” and the intimate “The Day You Died.” But Carter proves that there’s more to his talents than aping Kevin Shields’ distorted techniques, his brooding croon providing a neat contrast on the widescreen psychedelia of “Never Going Home” and the disjointed “I Don’t Blame You.”

Voices undoubtedly wears its influences on its sleeve, but it’s still an impressive and timely leap forward from Phantogram’s debut that is quite likely to build on their unexpected momentum.


4 / 5 stars     

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About the Author


Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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