There’s a certain peace that comes with listening to Voices, New York duo Phantogram‘s second full-length album. This in spite of its lyrics that range from “I’m losing to mind” in Nothing But Trouble to “Give me a reason to stay alive” in Celebrating Nothing.
Maybe it’s in the beats and synths that pulsate throughout the record resulting in a musical equilibrium hypnotic to the ears. Or maybe it’s the delicious production that is mixed so tight and sounds so smooth that listening to it allows for a complete tune-out of everything else going on in the world.
The duo, consisting of Sarah Barthal and Josh Carter, released their first album in 2009 and since put out several EPs, collaborated with Big Boi on his 2012 record and contributed a song to last year’s Catching Fire soundtrack, but the first time I became aware of them was just a few short months ago while eagerly seeking out new music to fill the void that 2013 failed to do.
Fall In Love caught my attention primarily due to its fantastic production, mixing layers of synths and beats over Barthal’s R&B-fused vocals and melody. From there, it was an easy win-win.
Predominately trip-hop and electronica, Voices also contains influences of R&B, jazz, hip-hop and rock. While precision-perfect production in these genres can sometimes sound thin and void of emotion, Phantogram avoids that easily with moody, sombre melodies that give elegance to lyrics about loneliness, heartbreak and hopelessness.
As the party of electropop artists becomes ever-crowded, Phantogram stands out by not highlighting any single aspect of their sound over everything else. Buzzing synths are ever-present but they never take away from the heavy and sometimes complex beat, hypnotically repetitive vocal effects or Carter’s guitar, even when it takes centre-stage like the solo at the end of Nothing But Love.
Never Going Home, one of two tracks Carter sings on, is one of the few stripped minimalistic moments of the record as he possesses a Peter Gabriel quality to his vocals that add to the extensive versatility of the duo’s sound.
Versatile might be the most impressive quality of Voices as it can serve as chill background music with a drink, has radio potential, and selections from it wouldn’t sound out of place in dance clubs. I have heard Fall In Love wedged between EDM hits at the club and it worked. That song, also the first single, is currently in rotation on Sirius XM.
Voices is the most exciting record so far in 2014, easily filling the void left by the trend of dance/pop and EDM that has overstayed its welcome. Phantogram is the perfect crossroads between heavily-produced hits and the more natural, authenticity of acoustic recordings, taking the best of both and fusing them into Voices.
1. Nothing But Trouble
2. Black Out Days
3. Fall In Love
4. Never Going Home
5. The Day You Died
6. Howling At The Moon
7. Bad Dreams
8. Bill Murray
9. I Don’t Blame You
10. Celebrating Nothing
11. My Only Friend