With their second full-length album Voices, New York duo Phantogram have provided a collection of emotive pop tracks veiled by a hard-edged synthetic mask, building on the already impressive musical foundation laid by their debut Eyelid Movies and subsequent EP’s and collaborations.
Pervading Voices through almost its entirety are raw synth-lines of such a depth as to create an underlying threat even when the music is at its most placid. Such moments of tranquility, though, are within the minority on the album – an example of this is the mournful Bill Murray, which was titled that way because the duo ‘always pictured a sad Bill Murray for the visuals of that song’. Another compelling low-key moment comes at the start of the closing track My Only Friend, whose disconcertion, both lyrically and melodically, as well as it’s subsequent build to a robust state of electro-vehemence, reminds me of Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film).
For the most part, Voices keeps up a danceable kind of energy, though its perpetual hint at darkness and its electronic erraticism confine it to a certain kind of dance-floor. That it is their first album with major-label backing is evident in the scale of production – the radiance and harmonic richness in the choruses of Never Going Home and Howling at the Moon are testament to this.
The domineering electric groove and multi-layered soulfulness of Fall in Love make it the strongest track on the album to my ears. Its vocal melody takes a tight grip on the mind and the lyrics are equally forceful: ‘Love, it cut a hole in your eyes / You couldn’t see you were the car I crashed / Now you’re burning alive’.
Other notable tracks include the opening pair – Nothing But Trouble and Black Out Days; the former particularly, having a kind of vocal ethereality and a movement that are almost unsettling. Also, Celebrating Nothing is a forward-moving and appealing lamentation – ‘How many times can I blow it all? / How many times will I burn it down?’.
Whilst I’d say that each track on voices has its own strengths, the album tends to bleed together when listening to it cohesively. Regardless, Phantogram should be proud of Voices, which is, for better or for worse, their most immense and most polished musical monument to date.