Phantogram - Voices 2LP
After making some noise with their debut album, Eyelid Movies, which straddled the line between trip-hop and shoegaze with the skill of an acrobat, Phantogram have refined and expanded their sound in really interesting ways. The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have added R&B influences and hip-hop swagger to the mix, refined their songwriting skills, and in Barthel's case, become a very powerful vocal presence. Their second album, 2014's Voices, shows how far they have come and is a really solid and deep modern pop album that sounds perfectly crafted and infused with real emotions. It's easy to see why their music has blown up over the time between albums: the arrangements are huge and accessible, with every bit of space filled with interesting synth sounds, drum programs, and guitars that create a richly enveloping atmosphere. Their use of samples is deft as they dig deep into the work of South Korean psychedelic guitarist Shin Joong Hyun, the Chi-Lites (with excellent use of "Coldest Day of My Life" on the beautiful ballad "Bill Murray"), and rare soul grooves that provide some off-kilter mystery and grit to their dreamy approach. Rising out of the background like a massive wave of warmth and giving the album an emotional center are Barthel's impressive vocals. She can belt it out like she's trying to reach the back rows of an arena (like on the rumbling new wave-inspired "Nothing But Trouble" or the Rihanna-produced-by-Tricky jammer "Fall in Love") or she can slink around in the mix with some real subtlety (on the murky, moody "Black Out Days"), but no matter the size or mood, she totally nails everything. Voices is filled with catchy, emotion-packed songs that will sound great booming out of radio speakers, soundtracking late nights spent alone and wondering, and anytime some really powerful modern pop is needed.