On Phantogram’s Nightlife, ambiguous mix of music melds unstable mix of genres
Categorizing the sound on Phantogram’s latest EP, Nightlife, was a blast and a half. In the form of a quick six-track album, duo Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter dance around genres like nobody’s business. So readers, in order to provide a sense of stability, I’ve created a metaphor that will hopefully express the general musical arrangement of this album. Let’s say that The National marries TV On the Radio and they create a musical baby who enjoys raving to triphop and unwinding with dream pop, but is technically called street beat. Make sense?
If not, that’s okay. Nightlife is an enjoyable album that pairs well with the post-party comedown. A heavy emphasis on the drums leads the band in a grittier rock direction, versus shallow electro-pop, and hopefully they will continue to experiment with heavier noises on future projects.
Starting the EP off with a song like “16 Years” was a good choice. Essentially, this track will remind listeners why they liked Phantogram in the first place. It’s dreamy, smooth and vaguely forgettable. Barthel’s voice never sounds fully committed and her sweet detached vocals will make you lean in closer to your speakers to catch every word. “Don’t Move” is one of their best tracks. At first listen it sounds like a dance tune, but it has more substance than that. Perhaps I should leave this kind of talk to The Happy Trail, but, geez, talk about a song to get you in the mood. Utilizing the triphop sound to its fullest potential, Phantogram turns a potential club hit into something more intimate. The popular music blog, Pitchfork Media, refered to this album as ambidextrous and I am inclined to agree. Here’s a song that is energetic enough for a party, but its sensual sound is also perfect for after-hours activities.
Carter’s vocals can be heard on “Turning Into Stone” and “A Dark Tunnel.” He is abruptly grizzlier than Barthel and that contrast is a little jarring, particularly on the duet “A Dark Tunnel.” However, his roughness seems to encourage that favorable rock ‘n’ roll sound, so it’s worth the mild awkwardness.
This EP shows that the band is full of potential. Most of these tracks were interesting, and despite its inconsistentcy, the experimentation proves that Phantogram is evolving. Only an LP will truly be able to determine their fate, but Nightlife is a good indicator that Phantogram is headed in the right direction, even if that direction is hard to define.
Phantogram currently has no shows scheduled in Seattle. For more information, visit http://phantogrammusic.virb.com/