Ever since their 2010 gem Eyelid Movies, New York electro-duo Phantogram have been one of this country’s most talked about buzz bands. Now with the release of their first full-length debut Voices, the duo is out to prove they are more than worth the hype.
Well, at least that was the goal.
For all its winning moments (okay, there’s really only a handful), Voices is a laborious, painful and plodding forty-five minutes that absolutely misses in every sense of the word. Vocalist Sarah Barthel definitely has a sensual, sultry quality that makes her intonations flirtatious, inviting and haunting, but a compelling vocalist has to be multi-dimensional and never once on the album does Barthel rise above the slinky, sultry vixen she often tries so hard to be. Opener “Nothing But Trouble” is serpentine, hazy and teeming with electro-blips and while it unravels nicely as an opener it never really says or does anything of substantial impact. On the contrary, the reedy chorus of “Black Out Days’ is far more accessible, amiable and appealing than its predecessor and is easily one of the album’s better songs.
Voices’ lead single “Fall in Love” opens with strings and a circadian rhythm that allows Barthel to be doe-eyed, romantic and deeply melodic. And yet there aren’t many other songs that draw from this song’s blueprint. Even when guitars enter the fray on the lingering “The Day You Died,” there’s little about the song that marks it as indelible or worth revisiting. “Howling at the Moon” on the other hand is urgent, catchy and wickedly playful. Had the album employed more songs like “Howling at the Moon” there might be something worth celebrating.
The disc’s latter half opens with “Bad Dreams,” a song in which Barthel sounds angelic, restrained and tamer. For much of the first half she sounded possessed, melodramatic and annoying, but on “Bad Dreams” she’s endearing. The song itself is not nearly as concussive and the song actually works. Ditto for the feathery and languorous “Bill Murray,” which once again allows guitars to enter the framework but buried this deep in the album it would be a shock if it doesn’t get glossed over. The album concludes with “Celebrating Nothing,” a cheery singalong about impending doom and the slow-moving “My Only Friend,” which opens quiet and hushed and unravels into something stormy, histrionic and memorable.
The biggest drawback to Voices is well, the lack of voices. Guitarist/keyboardist Josh Carter makes an appearance only twice, on the deeply impacting “Never Going Home” and the gauzy “I Don’t Blame You.” The former is an ambient cocktail of dissonant celestial noise that has a depth and emotional sincerity that Barthel never really capitalizes on. As much as she tries to sound tender on some songs and tenacious on the others, those goals never rise to fruition. On the contrary, Carter’s inspired vocals have a gravity and weight to them that linger long after the disc closes. Even on the lesser track “I Don’t Blame You” there’s a palpability at work that’s far too hard to mimic and even harder to feign.
Whether it was the band’s decision to push Barthel to the spotlight remains to be seen, but neglecting Carter on so many tracks is essentially what drags down Voices from start to finish. Granted the album has maybe a half-dozen winners, but an album should be far more than just five or six good songs. For a band as talked about as they are, Voices needed to be a lot better.
For now, it’s just okay. Here’s hoping album number three lives up to that hype.
Definitely agree for the most part. About half the album is solid for me, with the rest being tedious to listen to. Eyelid Movies was inventive and captivating, and each track on their Nightlife EP is highly enjoyable. On this release, only "Fall In Love", "Never Going Home", and "My Only Friend" have really stood out to me. Josh's voice is better presented and utilized than before, which is a step forward, but overall this album is just middle-of-the-road.
"fall in love" was the first song i heard from this band, and i enjoy it immensely. the rest of the album doesn't live up to that track, and it ends up just being those one-and-done listens for me. i expect to hear a lot of these songs find their way into commercials, though.
My wife is a huge fan. She's actually seeing them tomorrow.We heard this album in it's entirety for the first time on Tuesday. Aside from a couple of stand out tracks most of the album is pretty forgetable. Which is a shame because their last album was mostly pretty awesome. And that's coming from someone who's pretty indifferent about this genre in whole.
This review is really all over the place. I'm not a hardcore Phantogram fan, so don't think I'm taking anything personally here, but it needs to be reiterated: you cannot describe an album as "a miss in every sense of the word" and "painful" then say two-thirds of the tracks are "good", two or three are "can't miss" and give an overall score of 70%. That's not a credible way to go about reviewing something, because you are saying very contradictory things all at once. It's totally fine if you wanted more from the album, but this review comes off as rather ... to borrow your own descriptor, "histrionic".
Why was the album a 7 when you said "For all its winning moments (okay, there’s really only a handful), Voices is a laborious, painful and plodding forty-five minutes that absolutely misses in every sense of the word."
So it's painful to listen to but most of it is awesome?