Tuesday, November 22, 2011

REVIEW: Phantogram - Nightlife EP

Grade: 92% (A-)

Lets be honest, bras are over rated. And when Sarah Barthel refused to wear one during Phantogram's set at Lollapalooza she was making a statement. The same can be said about how Barthel and Josh Carter have made a statement with their second official release, Nightlife. On the EP, the electro-pop tandem from New York make it clear that their 2009 debut release Eyelid Movies was no fluke. Recorded in a totally separate session than their first record, Nightlife is not only just as good if not better than their debut, but it also shows the duo's ability to stream a different style of electronic music.  

While Eyelid Movies featured dark rhythms and heavy beats, the follow-up takes the group in a more dance-pop direction with it's upbeat samples and quicker drum loops. The best example of this is on the lead single, "Don't Move." Using a solid variation of synths and samples (including a catchy little pop from the horn section), the song sets the standard for the EP with it's dance-styled drum beats. The synths move softly along the background of Barthel's vocals. Lyrically, she is even more impressive as she pushes the boundaries of her song writing abilities making both direct statements and clever remarks (ex. the chorus is "keep your body still," seemingly mocking the title). 

Both Carter's vocals and guitar work takes the back seat on most tracks like they did on the debut as the pair attempts to assert rhythms and synths as their defining characteristic. However, on "Turning into Stone," he takes the lead vocals in the main verses and his low tones supplement Sarah's voice well in the vocals. Recognizing his inability to boast a star-studded voice, he shields in with effects in the song, which is easily the EP's most impressive track.  

Guitar wise, Carter finds the perfect way to work off of the rhythms and beats Barthel creates and reinforces the driving aspects of each song. This is especially prevalent on "Make a Fist" where he plays with the riff to lead the song into the background of Sarah's vocals and then backs her up as she glides into the smoothed over chorus. 

Intriguingly, the title track shows the duo's ability to stretch out their work into other genres. Considering the back end of the band's debut got a little repetitive, the two go in a different direction with this song. While Carter leads the track with his acoustic guitar work, Sarah eventually works in some synth work and slower tempo drum beats. The song eventually grows into a mid rate track and features some electric guitar work and more driving beats.  

Phantogram's success with their follow-up shows their ability to get away from those sounds that influenced their debut and move along with their development. As they continue to tour behind this release, they will only continue to find more influences and work in newer and fresher sounds to both bridge their first two releases and then move into some different types of noise. 

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