Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Touring isn’t easy, and that world-weariness comes through loud and gray on Nightlife, a mini-LP from shoegazey glitch rockers Phantogram. The duo’s 2010 debut, Eyelid Movies, was a burst of fresh sadness mixing sinister fuzz with a serious dance punch. Nightlife is very much a companion piece, created during Phantogram’s tour and rapid ascent and written in tour buses, planes and drunken nightclubs.
True to their namesake, electronic and self-proclaimed “street beat” duo Phantogram’s latest EP is at its best when the pair embrace their penchant for layered complexity. Interlaced with vintage samples and drum machines, glossed over by gorgeously dark swells of synths, Nightlife is the brief follow-up to last year’s Eyelid Movies. One of the best aspects of Nightlife is Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel’s ability to manipulate the record’s paranoid undertones into a diverse collection of tracks.
Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, the New York-based electronic pop duo better known as Phantogram, make music refreshingly disinterested in pulling punches. With Eyelid Movies, their debut full-length from last year, the rhythm-heavy foundations and a twilight-lit mix of melody felt streamlined, yet still demonstrated vision and character. Taking cues from trip-hop and dream pop (Portishead seem to be an important reference point), they never seemed shy about being upfront with their influences.
After the release of their impressive debut album, Eyelid Movies, in 2010, Phantogram returned with a short but sweet EP, Nightlife, that refined and expanded the duo’s trip-hop shoegaze sound. This time out the band sounds more confident and outward looking, and Sarah Barthel's voice is less of an atmospheric whisper and more of a powerhouse. She sounds particularly good on the glitchy R&B-inspired “Don’t Move” and the late-night ballad “Nightlife.” She and partner Joshua Carter create a very moody, restrained atmosphere throughout, but this time make sure to add lots of hooks to keep the songs from blending into one another.
On “Don't Move,” Phantogram's Sarah Barthel makes an impossible demand: “Keep your body still,” a line that's satirically placed at the center of the New York duo's most ass-shaking-est beat to date. The irony is even more pronounced when considering Phantogram's small but percussive body of work, particularly the way in which their debut, Eyelid Movies, with its crisp urban beats and litany of slick electronic sounds, plays like a funky, post-millenial resurrection of late-'90s trip-hop, casting Phantogram as savvy downtempo purveyors with some brains behind the beats. While the same kind of praise can be heaped on Nightlife, it's difficult to ignore the suspicion that the release is less of an EP than a single with five B-sides.
In a 2010 interview with our own Drew Litowitz, trip-pop duo Phantogram said its name—a two-dimensional object that appears 3D—is perfect, because they’re a “two piece band, two dimensions, and we make a stereophonic, bigger sound than the two of us. ” After last year’s full-length Eyelid Movies and two EPs, this effect is nowhere more evident than on Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter’s fourth collection of sonic collages, Nightlife. Whether sampling Otis Redding on “Turning Into Stone” or looping call-and-response vocal samples on “Don’t Move”, Phantogram creates a panoply of sounds and textures.
The phantogram, more impressively known in technical circles as an anaglyphic stereoanamorphograph, is a kind of optical illusion in which a two-dimensional image appears to take on a third dimension only when viewed from a specific perspective. Although Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel were initially attracted to the term because it sounded cool, they ultimately chose it as the name for their Sarasota Springs-based electro-rock project on the basis that they hoped to be a two-piece act with a deceptively large sound. They’ve had some success – when Carter and Barthel came to the U.K.