Dreamy vocals and heavy beats weave together to create an out-of-body listening experience in Phantogram’s second album, “Voices.”
While most bands in this stage of their existence would have faded from the spotlight, psychedelic group Phantogram returns from its three-year hiatus with a highly anticipated album. The electronic pop pair, made up of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, revive the synth and dance beats from their previous work with more complex keyboard riffs and heavier percussion.
Along with more elaborate melodies, the album features deeper, darker lyrics. In the album’s first song, “Nothing But Trouble,” an eerie, powerful rhythm leads up to Barthel’s vocals: “Everyone I know is not around/ And Lucy’s still been crawling underground/ They’re eating all my shotgun smiles … I’m nothing, I see nothing but double.”
From the opening mark, “Voices” takes a serious turn from the band’s past work, echoing sad love songs and heartbreak, following with songs such as “The Day You Died” and “Celebrating Nothing.”
The third track of the album, “Fall in Love,” was released as a single last year. Its hazy, romantic instrumental vibe contrasts with the sorrowful lyrics Barthel sings.
“Love, it was enough to recognize/ To see I was the reason you feel sick inside/ Fall in me/ I’ll let you bleed/ ‘Cause you were falling.”
Despite the change in lyrics, Phantogram preserves the upbeat electronic beats that made them popular after “Eyelid Movies,” their first album. Their experimental sound, generated by different samplers, synths, drums, percussion and stringed instruments, steers them into a trip-hop sound, although it’s hard to classify them into one genre.
“Voices” goes against the grain of typical drum-and-bass or purely psychedelic styles. Rather, it combines the catchiest aspects of different genres and merges them into an unforgettable album.
Phantogram manages to keep up the oscillating pulse of its beats and melodies and carry it throughout the entire album, making almost every song catchy and fun at points where most albums tend to drop off.
In “Never Going Home,” one of the album’s softer pieces, Carter’s voice makes a rare appearance. It starts off with a trance-like vibration as a slow guitar riff joins in. Carter sings in a dreamy voice that matches Barthel’s singing style:
“Baby don’t die on me/ I believe in trust/ Late night, I go to sleep/ Wondering what is real.” Carter effectively proves that his vocals warrant a larger presence.
Phantogram’s experimental sound caused the group to rise to the top of the indie music charts in the past few years, and this continuation of its alternative sounds and style is what will keep them at the top, regardless of the hiatus.
The duo does not try too hard to be original and different, but creates a more laid-back sound, elevating the music to a versatile album that may be one of the best releases of 2014. “Voices” validates Phantogram’s talent, defying the cliched sophomore slump and proving that the pair from upstate New York can go on to even higher places.