Phantogram’s “Voices”: Review Round-up

Phantogram’s new album Voices was released this week, so we thought we’d give you an idea of what critics all around the country are writing about Sarah Barthel, Josh Carter and their new music:

From Matt Moore at Associated Press: “Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have found an equilibrium that pulls the very best of each other’s talents to the forefront and blends it for songs that have a stunning heft. This isn’t music for jubilant parties. This is music for listening, parsing for meaning, for introspection and for making bold declarations that, as the song ‘Howling at the Moon’ proclaims: ‘Let the shooting stars, let the crashing cars, let the future pass, wasn’t made to last.’ Phantogram has crafted an epochal album, a generational capstone that will reside in the playlists for a generation to come and returned to in times of heady joy and nostalgic reminiscence, too.”

From Nathan Stevens at PopMatters: “There’s a fairly common trope dominating parts of the indie music world and it goes like this: pixie voice female leads a band surrounded by male orchestrated electronics. Just look at the way Purity Ring and Chvrches have been lauded by critics. There are even mutated versions of this theme: the twisted insanity of Crystal Castles and the one-woman pop machine that is Grimes. But if there’s one outfit ready to flip this trope on its head it would be Phantogram. With their newest album the New York-based duo have turned from a promising indie-rock group into a full-fledged, ass-kicking, genre-mashing superhero team.”

From Stuart Berman at Pitchfork: “[Sarah Barthel’s] not afraid to place herself in a vulnerable position in service of a song, and on Voices‘ most immediately arresting tracks — in particular, the back-to-back, arena-rattling R&B bangers ‘Black Out Days’ and ‘Fall in Love’ — she invests her performances with a heightened sense of desperation that feels raw and real. Likewise, her wistful turn on ‘Bill Murray’ serves as the album’s emotional center; though it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the iconic actor, the song’s soft-focus synth washes and hazy-headed romantic longing would be right at home on the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack.”

From Stephen Thompson at NPR: “Even a sullen ballad like ‘Bill Murray’ is fueled by a low, churning buzz, yet Barthel still infuses the darkest and most driving Phantogram songs with warmth, mystery and sinewy, sinister style. The Saratoga Springs, N.Y., duo has spent the last four or five years bubbling up, and it’s never sounded more current; it helps that the duo has suddenly turned up in commercials and on high-profile movie soundtracks, to the point where you couldn’t avoid Phantogram’s music if you wanted to. Voices is the sound of a band at ease and assured in its moment, as it seizes every scrap of momentum it’s created for itself.”

From Ryan Burleson at Paste: “If there’s a better projection of the current pop/indie/hip-hop zeitgeist, I’m unaware of it. (OutKast’s Big Boi was, of course, prescient on this point.) Voices thrums with a shapeshifting wistfulness and defiance from its outset, scooping up our loneliness and tossing us headfirst into a sea of same-feeling, party-going revelers. Throbbing, asymmetrical beats in the lineage of J. Dilla (we haven’t reached the tipping point of his influence yet) and Portishead are aimed at the body; chopped and screwed samples are aimed at the mind; and everything else — the chilly, angular guitar riffs, the enveloping synths — are, as I suggested earlier, aimed directly for the heart and its bluer quarters. Voices is one of the most exciting sad albums I’ve encountered in a while. And it triumphs in that space in between. I’d draw you a Venn diagram if I was a remotely competent illustrator, highlighting the shared football shape of loss and attitude conveyed here.”

From Gennaro Aliperti at College Media Journal: Though Voices may not be as diverse as fans might expect, it’s the subtleties that shine. Instead of focusing heavily on the production, the songwriting and vocals play more a more integral part throughout the album. (Hence, the album title?) The balance of both artists’ contributions displays the strong sonic connection that Barthel and Carter share. The overall vibe is that the pair have found a middle ground where the hits highlight their instrumental technicalities while their more reflective songs showcase their vocal and songwriting abilities. Phantogram have delivered enough of a new direction on Voices to avoid being defined as just another electronic band, with the creativity and talent to evolve further.”

From Luke O’Neil at The Boston Globe: “It’s tricky to read intention into the vagaries of production technique, but if the mixes on Phantogram’s Voices, the second album from the New York duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, are any indication, they’ve become more comfortable asserting their personalities in the seven years since they formed. Unlike their breakout Eyelid Movies in 2010, the vocals here are pushed to the fore, mostly unobscured by effects. This is still a heavily produced effort, with songs like ‘Black Out Days’ draped in enough ambience to make a Foley artist jealous. But the vocals, Barthel’s in particular, slice through the squelching bass synths, strings samples, guitar soloing, and electronic beats.”

1 Comment
  1. Tim says

    I think they like it, they REALLY like it! And they should, it rocks!

Comments are closed.