On Feb. 18, Phantogram delivered a new addition to the indie-pop genre. Voices is a prime example of the electric-style composition that I so love to listen to on the way to class. The ebbing and flowing of bright intensity to heavy simplicity that is characteristic of every song on the album is exciting and catchy. The content is true to the album title, relating hard and fast to the inner emotional strife some of us experience so often.
Voices was produced and released under John Hill’s label Republic, also responsible for recent work released by Santigold and M.I.A.
Sarah Barthel’s vocals are uplifting despite singing heavy subject matter. Simply put, she puts herself out there; she takes risks. She is outgoing with every sound, and to be on the receiving end of this feels privileged, even slightly intimidating. Her voice fills you. “Bad Dreams” is a prime example of Barthel’s impressive vocal exertion. She’s got a sound a lot like Lorde but with a different kind of depth. Accompanied by sounds created and compiled by Josh Carter (I believe his golden moment occurs in “Fall In Love”), she sounds bold and basically amazing. The elements employed by Carter convey emotion even further, making several songs on the album hit you deep in the chest.
“Black Out Days,” perhaps one of the biggest gems of this album, reminds me of “Mouthful of Diamonds” from their 2010 album Eyelid Movies. However, the in-your-head content makes it seem less hip-hop-pop and more of an intense-emotional-experience.
The song “Bill Murray” has sounds in it that are remarkably similar to those used often by the Xx and even Beach House, but with a very Phantogram-esque over-tone. The song evokes loneliness and hopelessness, and it doesn’t sound quite like the rest of the album. But somehow it’s so easy–even compelling–to listen to.
“Howling at the Moon” employs danceable beats (they remind me of Discovery) and evokes many rich visuals. This is characteristic of many of Phantogram’s songs, perhaps one of their best qualities. Their lyricism, although often simple, is almost always wrought with imagery.
Voices is an impressive compilation of how artists make inner pain beautiful and redeemable. Unfortunately, not every song is completely catchy, and to be honest some of them are relatively repetitive as in most of their music. Perhaps this tool is meant to get a point across? Often it can feel like there is a bit too much “noise” and not quite enough “sound.” This quality sometimes makes Phantogram even a little too overwhelming at times and hard to remember; it doesn’t always stick. However, songs like “Nothing But Trouble,” “Black Out Days,” “Fall In Love,” and “Celebrate Nothing” really do hit home and beg to be listened to over and over again.