By Kristie Sparksman
VANCOUVER — “If this is love / I’m never going home,” and if this is the only band you connect with this year, then you have done a myriad of good to your ears. Music hits us in every way; high, low, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically through outbursts of dance. It can ensnare us, seep into our veins, and cascade upon our sentimental side. Phantogram is easily the best duo for inducing catharsis, and certainly don’t cease to amaze with their rhapsodic second studio album, Voices (2014).
You can’t blame middle-school misfits Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter for throwing your soul in a blender; surely they’re just doing what they know best. That is, trailblazing a music genre that is amorphous in its identity. Collaborations with the Flaming Lips, A$AP Rocky, and Big Boi perch Phantogram at diverse places on the musical spectrum, but that’s just the mystery that draws us back to their newest album.
“It sounds louder, better. You can turn it up, and you can feel a little bit better about [doing] that,” says Barthel. ”We had a pop-punk sensibility in mind, to have the melodies stick out more.”
The “better” she is referring to is the quality of Voices. It recalls the hypnotic, looped-melodies that their 2009 debut full-length Eyelid Movies had, but with sharper, less-shoegazey vocal power (although we don’t mind your shoegaze-ing, Barthel).
Sequentially, their albums tell the tale of a band that is meticulous with each detail of their character. From a name change (formerly Charlie Everywhere) revealing Phantogram, suitably defined as a “3D optical illusion,” to the track titles and music videos, Barthel and Carter have worked very hard to maintain their band’s personality on this latest record.
“It’s definitely a step forward for us, it’s a progression of Phantogram,” Barthel reveals. “But we didn’t want to be that band that put out an album and then on the next album, have it not be relatable and lose our old fans. We definitely kept that in mind for Voices.”
Eyelid Movies places us on the precipice of a life-altering decision, filling listeners with a dark-before-the-dawn sensibility. “When I’m Small,” and “Mouthful of Diamonds” are both intoxicating and breathy confessions from a wounded soul. The bridge album Nightlife (2011), although cited as an EP, reassures us that the dark times are almost over, with inner-strength glimmering on the surface of its record skin. Breakout song “Don’t Move” did exactly the opposite, with its infectious beats, spun into psychedelic rock. Onwards, and with a few hip-hop heavy tracks with Big Boi in between, we have Voices, the 2014 resolution.
It’s loaded with breakout gems “Black Out Days,” “Fall In Love,” and “Celebrating Nothing,” but secretly stuns us with the sentimental centre point, “Bill Murray.” Barthel and Carter visualized it as being the song that played in Murray’s head when his character plunges into the pool in Wes Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore. If that’s not enough dedication for you, then Phantogram’s favourite, “My Only Friend,” will surely grip you.
“It has a very personal meaning to both of us, and it’s also one of those songs that doesn’t sound like the other ones,” Barthel shares. “It doesn’t have a normal progression. We had some other ears this time around, it wasn’t just the two of us.”
With Big Boi as a best pal, and a successful second go at record production, Phantogram will continue touring the only way they know how: sacrificing their vulnerability for the beautiful illusion that is their band.
Phantogram performs at The Garrick (Winnipeg) Dec. 9, Flames Central (Calgary) Dec. 11, Starlite Room (Edmonton) Dec. 12, Vogue Theatre (Vancouver) Dec. 14 and Sugar Nightclub (Victoria) Dec. 15.AB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia, Flames Central, Josh Carter, Manitoba, MB, Phantogram, Sarah Barthel, Starlite Room, Sugar Nightclub, The Garrick, Vogue Theatre