Album Review: “Voices” by Phantogram

Album Review: Voices by Phantogram

Confident sophomore album by electro-pop duo wows with stand-out tracks and controlled, refined sound

“Voices,” the newest release by New York electro-pop duo Phantogram, has a song entitled “Bill Murray.” This can only mean good things.

The aforementioned song is a pensive ballad reminiscent of the mellow, dreamy sound of Beach House and The xx. Evoking a certain cinematic grandeur, guitarist Josh Carter explained to the Atlantic that the song earned its title because Phantogram “always pictured a sad Bill Murray for the visuals of that song.” A buzzing synthesizer propels the song forward in the verses, while the chorus is adorned by the twinkling of a shy xylophone. It shows a more controlled and refined side of the duo and could very well end up on the soundtrack — set to synths — of the next Sofia Coppola movie.

In composing the new album, Carter and vocalist Sarah Barthel spent an entire summer locked up in a remote barn in upstate New York, just as they did when writing their 2009 debut album, “Eyelid Movies.” In a Times Union interview, Carter said they strive for a sound that is rhythmic with “swirling guitars, spacey keyboards” and echoing “airy vocals.” Unsurprisingly, the duo has drawn comparisons ranging from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Purity Ring.

As a result of teaming up with producer John Hill, whose highly varied repertoire includes everything from Shakira to Santigold to Snoop Dogg, the finished product incorporates a mix of genres — trip-hop, instrumental jazz, rock and electronica — which is delivered with confidence by Barthel’s unwavering vocals. Showcasing Phantogram’s affinity for sampling, “Fall in Love” is the sultry, standout track on the album. With its dizzying instrumentals and catchy melodies, it features a fusion of hip-hop samples and cascading dream pop strings, with elements of rock courtesy of distorted guitar licks and staccato cymbals. Each part of the song dramatically changes sound, disorienting the listener, like the turning of a kaleidoscope. In these four minutes, Barthel and Carter are irresistible.

Despite the heavy confluence of genres into each song, Phantogram’s delivery seems effortless. In an interview with Billboard Magazine, they justified this by explaining, “This is how people listen to music today.” They battle the short attention span of their listeners with intriguing samples and melodic adornments.

The downside of this is over-embellishment. Some songs, such as “I Don’t Blame You,” are heavy and sound disjointed. It would be interesting to hear a more minimalist approach for their next endeavor with the synthetic drum machine absent. However, Phantogram is confident in what they do, striving to constantly perfect their signature sound. At the same time, they express humbleness. You can’t help but root for them.

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