In this day and age of music, the natural action for bands to take is simple: pick a genre and latch on with a kung fu grip.
Whether it is indie, pop punk, metal or electronic, bands in their chosen genre seem to stray away from their music scene as much as a high school jock would stray away from his football friends. Not to say it’s unheard of —just unlikely.
But of course with any rule, there will always be a handful of exceptions. In the case of upstate New York’s Phantogram, the word anomaly is fully epitomized. Comprised of Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel, this two-piece band beautifully meshes together aspects of electronic rock, pop, prog and hip-hop into one genre-bending medley.
For this reason alone, it’s damn near impossible to categorize them. With the band’s debut album, “Eyelid Movies,” the end result is a sound that comes from the soul.
One of the album’s cornerstones is its array of looped electro-drum beats at the foundation of many tracks. In the album’s opener, “Mouthful of Diamonds,” the listener is brought into a surging static wonderland. Over its trademark sampled drum pulse, an ascending guitar riff serves a brief interlude until Barthel’s angelic voice enters. The chord progression by way of bass synthesizer is also a very nice touch to the well-crafted tune.
“When I’m Small” plays off a similar formula. It, too, works around a looped beat and synthesizer chord progression but feels substantially different. The main guitar riff gives you a feeling like it’s coming from the soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino flick with a sound vaguely resembling surf rock.
One of the high points is how the song pulls back into a soft pulsing lullaby of Barthel’s voice and a single ringing keyboard line before exploding into its chorus, blistering with a wall of sound and flurry of emotion.
When the album hits “Bloody Palms,” the band’s affinity for complex time signatures is brought to light. The intro is far more technical than previous tracks and, invariably, far more melancholy as well. The lyrics depict a sense of waning love, with lines like, “I see you later in the moonlight, but all the colors are softly fading.”
Near the album’s end (“Let Me Go” and “10,000 Claps”), the overall feeling becomes substantially less energetic and somewhat anti-climactic — I was sort of expecting a napalm explosion of intensity; instead, I got pop rocks. It goes to show you that even great bands can’t be perfect all the time.
But don’t let the album’s ending tracks fool you. In no way, shape or form should the album’s overall greatness be undermined. “Eyelid Movies” proves to be a smart and genre-defying debut for this up-and-coming group.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what style of music defines you. Phantogram’s fusion can jive with any scene and will inspire anyone willing to give its unique sound a chance.
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