By Katrina Yentch
At Phantogram’s formation in 2007, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel created an electrorock fusion that was unique, memorable, and innovative in the indie rock world. It had a zinging edge to it and vocals that screamed power and angst, but in a melodic sense. The third time around, however, this has become rather sickening and outdated. The duo’s long presence in the scene has allowed them to continuously sell out shows, but it does not make up for the fact that Phantogram does not add anything new to the table.
“Voices” is a compilation of overall upbeat electronic pop rock combined with high-pitched vocals and ironically depressing track titles. The album opens with the single, “Nothing But Trouble.” Immediately picture the band opening with this to get the crowd going and excited. It’s a strong, happy note that sets a tone for an album that will be straight indie rock with added influences of chamber pop and electronica.
As the album begins to progress…oh wait, but it does not. The next three to four tracks begin to sound the exact same. Now, one can give credit that they are simply good songs. It’s no wonder Phantogram has managed to remain relevant in the music scene for so long because these tracks are intricately arranged. However, they seem to follow a similar formula for each one. With the above mentioned descriptions of high vocal notes and electronic buzz comes redundancy and inability to distinguish between songs in ways other than when Carter is singing and when Barthel is singing. “Black Out Days” and “Fall in Love” literally sound like minimal variations of “Nothing but Trouble,” and “Never Going Home” is vocally led by Carter. The track itself slows does a bit and the chorus is slightly more pleasant to listen to, but otherwise the tracks blend into one long and continuous one.
As soon as Sarah Barthel leads vocals again with “The Day You Died” it goes back to the same formula. It gets even more bothersome with “Bad Dreams,” which tries to capture the audiophile’s ear by including a catchy electronic drum line. Then the vocals come in particularly high and particularly gruesome.
This set of high vocal notes become too much, and the ironically depressing lyrics titles do too. “Celebrating Nothing” and “My Only Friend” are even more of the same sadness, and the duo tries to build intensity in the final track, but in the end it leaves no memorable impression whatsoever. The only track that does seem to mildly stand out is “Bill Murray,” which seems to encompass a melodic set of instrumentals, a mild “indie lullaby.” In regards to whether the song actually embodies the sentiments/acting talents of Murray…let’s just say they did it for the whimsicality of the title. Let’s hope it was a tribute?
Overall “Voices” is a set of droney yet well-produced electronic rock tracks that start to mesh into one another. This isn’t to say that the music itself is bad quality. Rather, the songs lack any sort of innovation or experimentation. The duo knows what they are good at and simply stick to it. However, they stick to one formula, and this one formula does not work for multiple songs.
Recommend if: You’re into The Naked and Famous (who came just a year after) and want to hear the original sound.
Check out Phantogram’s new album, Voices at http://phantogrammusic.virb.com