Album Review: Phantogram’s “Nightlife” & “Eyelid Movies”

Sexy couplePhantogram are Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter from Saratoga Springs, NY who create the perfect melding of electric guitar and keyboard sounds.  Their music is dark and slinky, with quirky beats and arresting vocals, especially from keyboardist Barthel (who also happens to be very striking-looking and dances spastically).  I got their addictive 2010 release Eyelid Movies after being blown away by them at the Henry Fonda Music Box a few months ago, and then discovered on Spotify that they have a new EP, Nightlife.

The first two tracks on Eyelid Movies are instant favorites: “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “When I’m Small”.  The former mixes an electronic dance beat with a pretty guitar line and Barthel’s seductive but sweet vocals.  “When I’m Small”, which was especially impressive live, with all the spacey blue stage lights flashing, makes use of angstier guitar and the repetition of a languid “woah” from Barthel.  That one has a hip, driving-at-night-through-the-city feel.  I’m sure it will end up in a car commercial.  “As Far As I Can See” is another strong track, with samples and breaks under a pouting vocal melody that croons, “Nobody loves me.”

Here is a video of “Mouthful of Diamonds”:

The songs sung by Carter tend to be less immediately catchy, but do grow on you after a few listens.  The style of those particular tracks sometimes remind me of Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene.  The vocals are generally more under the music and altered with reverb; “Running From The Cops” has a cool, murky feel with a warbly effect on his vocals.

“All Dried Up” sounds a lot like Blonde Redhead, but other than that one song, I would be hard-pressed who to compare the music to.  They have a similar atmosphere to The XX, but I think Phantogram’s songs are much more interesting, and usually more upbeat.

On the EP Nightlife,”Don’t Move” is probably the best track.  It’s a great, dancey song with samples overlapping and breaking; Barthel sings with a breathier voice and the chorus has a nice groove.  “Turning Into Stone” sports a horn-like sound over Carter singing in a deeper, more pleasant voice than before.  Here’s a video for the opening track “16 Years”, which sounds happier than much of the previous album:

The Music Box show was very packed so if these guys come back to L.A., buy tickets early.  I’d be excited to see them again.

Image via Barsuk Records 

Simone Snaith

About Simone Snaith

Simone Snaith writes young adult and fantasy novels, and sings in the band Turning Violet. A fan of scifi, fantasy, the supernatural and most things from the '80s, she enjoys reviewing music, books and movies. You can read about her own books at simonesnaith.com.
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