Nightlife EP


29 Nov 2011, 6:46

Phantogram (Sarah Barthel, Josh Carter) are another of those cute co-ed duos fusing various strains of electronic music into credible pop so it’s their hip-hop influences that distinguish them from the others. You can hear it from track 1, with its triple kick-snare-snare fill-snare and mellow guitar; what might pass for a TV Girl song, if it weren’t for its fuzzy bass, synth strings, occasional subtle guitar crunch, and female vocals. And the vocals you could almost confuse for Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass if they traded in their longing for Alice’s angst. Even the synth strings seem to echo the longings of “sixteen years of mechanical joy” in 16 Years.

Track 2 is their this-is-the-one-with-obviously-chopped-samples song of the album, lead single Don’t Move. Of course, its busy, spastic samples and trippy instruments make it hard not to move. “All you do is shake, shake, shake,” sings Sarah. “Keep your body still,” she says, because “I’m not your paranoia” (and a host of other neurotic impulses).

Turning Into Stone seems like the next logical step to not moving, but I kind of enjoy moving—kind of why I got this album—but the only movement this song seems to allow me is to skip. So on to Make a Fist, a song that isn’t much faster but certainly more alive. “This is the future” sung repeatedly for a chorus indeed.

Like “Turning into Stone,” title track Nightlife is also too slow but might’ve worked on another album by another artist. It starts out with catchy folk-acoustic picking but turns into some bored shoegaze cliché about halfway into the song.

Luckily, we head into a dark tunnel afterward, and it gives us just the dark energy we need. Here, Josh’s vocals on the verses create a distinct contrast to Sarah’s on the chorus. It’s not her best work—but it’s workable—which is odd because her choruses are often some of the best parts of their songs. Luckily, Josh provides a dark angst, like an angrier Tunde Adebimpe vocal (TV on the Radio), minus the frequent falsetto. You’d probably also never hear Tunde singing about biting off heads or “Don’t tell me that you love me ‘cause you don’t.” Or hear his vocals soaked in reverb and fuzzy synth bass, but it works for Josh. Phantogram have rather developed their sound here, and I’m curious to see where they take it next.

Favorites: “Don’t Move,” “Dark Tunnel,” “16 Years”
Album Rating: 3.8/5

Daniel J DeMersseman


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