It’s been two years since Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, better known to the masses as electro duo Phantogram, released their breakthrough debut LP, Eyelid Movies. In that time, the two-piece focused on touring in support of the record, leaving little time to sleep, let alone write an album.
As a result, the New York-based twosome built upon bits and pieces of unfinished material from years past and ideas put into motion during extensive touring to create Nightlife, a six-track mini album and follow-up to Eyelid Movies.
The aptly titled EP showers its listener with a wave of emotions in its brief 27-minute-long duration. At times, the music is dreamy and whimsical, at others dark and isolated, reflecting feelings of the night, or perhaps life on the road. At first listen, this record does not sound like anything new. Phantogram sticks with its self-proclaimed “street beat” style, looping samples with swirling guitars and keys while Barthel’s airy voice soars weightlessly above. But listen again, and you hear experimentation.
For one, there is much more of a percussion presence in this album, likely due to the addition of Tim Oakley as the band’s touring drummer. This sense of rhythm keeps the tracks grounded and helps them move forward. The duo also plays with samples, using chopped up Middle Eastern vocals throughout the entirety of “Don’t Move,” the record’s first single, and sampled squawks of migratory birds to close the album, in its last track, “A Dark Tunnel.”
This song, though not the strongest on the album, is the most interesting. Aside from the honking flock of birds, Carter attempted to create a brusque atmosphere, which he described to Spin as “Outkast meets Nine Inch Nails.” Where the rest of the tunes ease into the vocals, this one begins with what sounds like a blow horn and Carter abrasively singing/yawping, his vocals trudging through muddy, heavy synthesizers as he yells, “Don’t try to tell me that you love me, ‘cause you don’t.” Suddenly, the sound changes, and Barthel’s soothing voice calms its listener, acting as a light at the end of the dark tunnel. This juxtaposition occurs for the entirety of the five-and-a-half-minute-long track, flip flopping between darkness and lightness.
It’s refreshing to hear the duo experiment with its composition instead of fizzling out as electro-popper has-beens. Barthel sings it best herself in “Make a Fist,” as she wistfully croons, “This is the future.” For Phantogram, it looks like it will be a bright one.
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