December 21, 2014
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Review: Release from psych-pop duo fashions moody dance beats

"Voices"

Phantogram

Sarah Barthel, lead vocalist of Phantogram, an electronic rock duo from upstate New York, has a breathy, serene voice that may hypnotize listeners in the opening track “Nothing But Trouble,” a combination of drum-driven rock and entrancing vocals on the band’s second studio album, “Voices.”

Phantogram describes its sound as “street beat, psych pop,” a style particularly evident in the track “Black Out Days.” In this song, Phantogram meshes powerful, hip hop–inspired beats with Barthel’s spiraling chorus and echoing lyrics.

Inspired by artists like J Dilla, Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips, Phantogram fuses dancey beats, looping tracks and sampled vocals to achieve a stylistically cohesive sound, more matured from its less polished, though stimulatingly rhythmic debut album from 2010 titled “Eyelid Movies.” Phantogram spins multi-layered tracks, merging persistent synth sounds with the twang of electronic strings.

“The Day You Died” serves as the album’s climax, evoking a sense of urgency with Barthel’s mewling looped lyrics laid over swirling guitar riffs. In contrast to this driving track, “Never Going Home” gives off nostalgic vibes with its slower, more acoustic tone featuring Barthel’s bandmate Josh Carter’s throaty vocals instead. Clips of Barthel’s sighing melodies linger in the background, creating the voices of this aptly named album.

While “Voices” pleasantly surprises with its moody though danceable beat-driven tracks, the second, sleepier half of this album fails to impress. The dreamy, wailing tones in “Bill Murray” or “Celebrating Nothing” are less inventive, conforming to similar-sounding artists specializing in introspective lyrics delivered in nonchalant fashion. These unimaginative moments can put a temporary damper on the album’s absorbing musicality.

However, Phantogram’s performance emanates a cool-as-ice demeanor, the duo’s lyrics maintain a strong sense of vulnerability. Barthel sings: “Am I lonely?/ Cause it feels right/ And your eyes bleed when you see/ Cause nothing works inside.” These confessional melodies bring emotional weight to the album, evidence of the band’s continued artistic growth.

“Voices” is a testament to the band’s slowly recognized potential, a moodier, emboldened installment that sets the stage favorably for Phantogram’s future career.