Written by Matthew Lipson
On their second album, Voices, Phantogram have built upon the formula of their debut album, Eyelid Movies; hard-hitting electronic beats, soaring synths, bright, melodic guitar lines and lighter-than-air vocals.
Though the Greenwich, New York duo has not stretched too far beyond their comfort zone, Voices features more accessible, catchier pop hooks. Sarah Barthel does most of the heavy lifting on vocals, and her whimsical, yet haunting voice soars high above the sultry, hypnotic grooves, which feel somewhat more stripped-down than those of their debut album.
The album grabs the listener early on and doesn’t lose a step. Barthel delivers acidic and dark lyrics, often times more personal than ones found on Eyelid Movies. In the opening track, “Nothing But Trouble,” she begins by asking, “Do you ever have the feeling that you constantly been dreaming this is real life?” before lamenting, “They’re eating all my shotgun smiles.”
Other highlights include the radio-worthy “Fall in Love,” which becomes a sing-along by the time the second chorus hits. In “Never Going Home,” Josh Carter takes the spotlight on lead vocals and is nearly indistinguishable from Peter Gabriel. The track builds slowly and ends with Carter repeating, “If this is love, I’m never going home” in a moment of serene, indie-anthem charm. The song almost makes the listener regret that Carter’s vocal moments are so few and buried in effects, compared to Eyelid Movies.
All in all, Voices is a wonderfully enjoyable and more accessible effort than Phantogram’s debut album, with Sarah Barthel’s angelic voice and more personal lyrics front and center. Though the duo have sacrificed the more adventurous sounds of Eyelid Movies for catchier melodies, Voices results in a more gratifying, pleasurable experience.
Voices will be officially out on Tuesday, February 18th, 2014, but you can pre-stream it now on NPR. Click here to listen.