In 2009 the synth-rock duo Phantogram released an addictive 5-track EP that landed the NY band on every watch-list and college radio station in the country. Keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist Joshua Carter have since built a solid fan base opening for the likes of Ra Ra Riot and Yeasayer as well as creating a new genre they call 'street beat psyche pop.' Full of addictive electronic loops and trip-hop beats, the group has been favorably compared to every band from Massive Attack and Metric to Portishead and Sonic Youth. "We wanted to incorporate all our own influences creating our own sound that's a combination of Serge Gainsbourg, sampling and Detroit hip-hop," Barthel often says, "we sound like a combination of Kanye West and Radiohead."
Originally calling themselves Charlie Everywhere, the upstate New York band formed after Barthel returned home following a dissatisfying experience in visual arts school. Working on some song ideas with her childhood friend Joshua Carter, the duo began performing in the Saratoga Springs area on the local label Sub-Bombin Records. The duo quickly became local favorites known for their energetic live performances and psychedelic light shows. Positive reviews lead the band to sign with BBE in early 2009, changing their name to Phantogram and releasing their self-titled EP.
In February 2010 the duo released their first full-lenght album Eyelid Movies to universal praise. Equipped with a guitar, a keyboard and a lap top the duo wrote and recorded the record in a barn 45-min upstate from their home. An extension of their 2009 EP, Eyelid Movies features the hit singles "Mouth Of Diamonds" and "Running From The Cops," the two tracks most responsible for their growing hype last year. With the addition of some newly recorded material Phantogram has created a solid collection of electronic influenced indie rock gems full of spaced-out synths and catchy guitar riffs.
Eyelid Movies starts off strong with the magnetic beat of "Mouthful Of Diamonds," weaving Carter's tranquil guitar riffs with Barthel's silky lyrics. A beautiful song about bad relationships and the willpower to walk away. "The world is not around because of you." Barthel sings, "You know I'm not around because of you." The synthesizer hums in the background complementing her voice without overpowering. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, "Mouthful Of Diamonds" is already in heavy rotation on college radio stations.
Another of my favorite tracks is the vintage flavored "When I'm Small," a mix of upbeat dance and downhearted lyrics. Synth drenched ethereal vocals are layered on top of old-school drum loops and Carter's groovy guitar riff. "Take me underground, take me all the way," Barthel sings, "Bring me to the fire, throw me in the flame." Phantogram's best moments are often when Barthel is allowed to put her voice front and center. "I'd rather die," she continues, "I'd rather die than to be with you." Carter takes lead vocals on several tracks as well, such as the synth heavy "Running From The Cops," but to be honest his wavering distorted delivery pales in comparison to Barthel's sultry voice.
There are plenty of great songs on this album, ranging from the wavering synth of "Let Me Go" to the electro-soul "As Far As I Can See." While rough around the edges, Phantogram has a nice vintage quality to their records that never feels over produced. The album ends with the slow-burning "10,000 Claps" a beautifully strange track combining light piano, warbling tones and audience applause as surface noise. A great debut from two incredibly talented musicians, Eyelid Movies is perfect for jaded electro and indie rock fans who have been complaining about the lack of quality in the genres.
Phantogram is currently touring the country with a stop at the Canopy Club in Urbana, IL on Saturday, April 17th opening for the Antlers.