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.