Search The Line of Best Fit
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Phantogram - Voices


Release date: 30 June 2014
Phantogram Voices
20 June 2014, 13:30 Written by Laurence Day
Five slogging, sporadic Phantogram years have trudged by since the Greenwich (NY State, not London) indie duo were benevolent enough to distribute an LP. Their 2009 debut, Eyelid Movies was followed by a slew of EPs, but it’s not until now, half a decade later, we can wallow in a new record and really get to grips with the advancements, evolution and experiments that Phantogram have – or, perhaps, haven’t – been up to. Voices arrives in our hands a considerable amount of time after the lucky buggers in the US of A got their paws on it, and although many of us have already glimpsed what the twosome have been up to, the effect is far from deadened.

For their slick premiere foray, the pair – comprising Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter – employed starker tactics. There was a clarity, a de-fogged approach to electro-pop with the occasional trip-hop twang and lick of lo-fi. On Voices there’s a grandiose gloss. The production values seem exponentially higher, the gambits bolder, the Evel Knievel risks more dare-devilish – everything does seem more sandblasted, but that’s not necessarily an issue. They’ve taken a similar route to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (from Fever To Tell to It’s Blitz!, at least), in that they’ve smoothed out over the years. There’s a mystique permeating each strand of sinewy synth, a blissful, gasping whisper in the anthemic vocals. Percussion echoes despite quirks; guitars take more avant-garde roles. Although they’ve jettisoned the spiky chapped-lip rawness, they’ve not weakened their blow. Not by a long shot.

Instead, now we receive a glimmering ultra-modern pop record to rival any other major hitter in 2014 – and boy, have there been a few big ‘uns. They pluck and extract and meld and fizzle like master warlocks, brewing a multi-purpose elixir that’ll make us swoon. Ache. Weep. You can peer with ease upon an arsenal of references: Daughter’s reverent, hallowed agony (“My Only Friend”), Cocteau Twins’ dream-pop blizzards (“Howling At The Moon”), the darkness Rihanna shies away from (“Black Out Days”) and St. Vincent’s modern wonk (“Nothing But Trouble”). These probably aren’t deliberate or conscious, but Phantogram dip into the same pools of greatness.

There are bolder, more individual statements however. “The Day You Died” is a meaty hunk of electro-rock gallantry, with finger-clicks and the fascinating helix of guitar riffs mixing with synth buzz. “Howling At The Moon”, for all its Cocteau Twins-ness in the chorus, also features bouts of primal, blazing chants and trap beats. “Never Going Home” sees Stephen Drozd take the vocal reins, injecting a new timbre to fray. In the end however, it’s the rousing spasms of “I Don’t Blame You” that take the crown as the most outlandish ditty on Voices. Forcing together swung hip-hop beat (a portent of things to come with Big Boi?), chattering brass fanfare, chimes, whirling guitars and vocals, for a rare occasion, not from Barthel. It’s completely non-standard, and nevertheless thrilling.

Phantogram’s second outing is a beautiful disaster of epic proportions. They pierce hearts left and right with emotionally devastating rhetoric, and then add in heaps of electronica, hip-hop, pop and rock elements to craft a record that’s complex and overstuffed. Every bulging facet gleams, and the gloopy textures that are born from layer upon layer upon layer have the potential to choke. Regardless of this overproduction, the record thrives. It’s huge, with every track destined to be belted from festival stages to strobe-dappled crowds. Voices is unforgiving, and in a sense wonderfully honest. Best of all, it’s a passionate display of skin-peeled-back feelings and tender torture. With this album, Phantogram embody the entire world crumbling, both metaphorically and literally. Let the waves of concrete, broken glass and brick engulf you.

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