[Review] Phantogram: Voices

Due to the overwhelming amount of electro-pop rock outfits saturating the indie scene over the past couple years, I have had difficulty latching on to any one artist or album that I enjoyed thoroughly, not just that had a couple of catchy tracks. That being said, I have been constantly listening to Phantogram‘s latest album Voices on repeat, discovering deliciously desperate lyrics, alluring vocals, and knock-out beats with each go around. The more I listen, the more I like.

Josh Carter (guitar, vocals) and Sarah Barthel (keyboards, vocals) made their debut in 2009 with their album Eyelid Movies, sparking attention but somewhat living in the shadows of other electronic rock groups like Sleigh Bells. They gained more glances their way collaborating with heavy hitters like Big Boi and The Flaming Lips, but lacked a strong presence musically, almost like they were stuck in electro-pop limbo. Voices is the next step in the absolute right direction.

Fall In Love,” (the first single off of the record) is enchanting, dooming, and dance-y all in one. I literally can’t stop singing the hook, which is perfectly simple in comparison to the melodic verses. And I must praise the vocal melodies on this album, so often with pop music we are presented with one or two note repetitive mutterings that march on to the chorus. But Phantogram achieves excellent song structure with compelling musical lines accompanied by tragically lovely lyrics. “The lines on my face ate away at my smile, could it be that I fell apart?”

Having two lead vocalists on a project can sometimes derail the flow or energy of an album, but when Carter popped up on “Never Going Home,” I was delighted at the change of direction the album took. Stripped down and organic, the track possesses a Bon Iver/David Bazaan quality that pulls you out of the electronic heavy haze.

The album seems to teeter between reality and dreams/nightmares, with tracks like “Howling At The Moon,” which gives off a very aggressive, sacrificial vibe. Barthel hollers and swoons over busy beats singing “And if I ever fall asleep I’ll turn around and face the sea. And if I crucified my dreams to be on your side, to see you alive.” Followed immediately by “Bad Dreams” which is less violent and more lyrical as Barthel confesses “Bad dreams never effect me I’m not afraid of the concrete… bad thoughts never arrest me, I’m just a flash in the memory.” reality kicks in on the bass heavy “Celebrating Nothing,” one of my favorites off the album. Barthel sings about failures and empty living, pleading for a reason to go on if there’s nothing to look forward to or no one to celebrate with. “How many times will I blow it all? How many times will I burn it down? Give me a reason to stay alive.”

The album pulls you through various emotions and sounds, breaking your heart and burning a fire in your brain. Voices is the complete package, each track executed flawlessly, proving the album to be the boost that Phantogram needed to land themselves at the top of the electro-pop chain. Get Voices here and be sure to listen from beginning to end.

Brynn Bixby

Before she was an indie music journalist sharing tunes with the likes of you, Brynn performed all over Chicagoland and cut a full-lenth record with her high-energy, indie pop trio, Caught in Your Pockets. She also regularly provides vocals for various homegrown acts, from indie-blues-rock kings, Train Company, to Chi Town hip hop icons in the making, Show You Suck and Legend Haz It. A piano and guitar playing singer songwriter, Brynn double majored in vocal performance and education, and can definitely school you on what sounds amazing.

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