Under Review: Phantogram – Eyelid Movies

For whatever reason, New York’s Phantogram doesn’t exactly make American-sounding music.  What leads me to that assertion is the duo’s love for scratchy, off-the-record beats and assorted found sounds that might be more closely associated with Massive Attack or The Beta Band.  Further supporting their Euro-leanings is the fact that their debut album, Eyelid Movies, was released overseas months before it came out here in the States.  Whether or not keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist Josh Carter mean to align themselves with the UK scene is not important (though I can’t say I blame them), since Eyelid Movies is a record for any country’s taste.  The songs gather a few unusual but somewhat related styles, such as twangy surf rock (“When I’m Small”), brass-heavy R&B (“As Far As I Can See”) and freaky electronica (“Running From The Cops”).  It all works effortlessly, even as Carter and Barthel trade lead vocals.  Barthel tends to ride the more enigmatic, Elizabeth Frasier route while Carter favors distorting his voice through a processor.  Each vocalist blends with the music expertly, creating an atmosphere that is at once beguiling and menacing.  If there’s one thing that can be scored against Eyelid Movies, it’s that the songs aren’t easy to sing along to.  Resulting from either the aforementioned vocal effects or just unintelligible lyrics, Phantogram aren’t really into the meanings of words to much as the sounds.  A quick look at the lyric sheet reveals some unusually and often overwrought emotions and images contained in the songs, so maybe it’s best that I can’t always understand what they’re singing.  If Phantogram are to become widely acclaimed, it probably won’t affect their musicianship or professionalism a jot.  After working with them in a recent studio session, I can attest to their devotion to their music.  They essentially mix every one of their performances themselves, tweaking and fiddling to their own desires.  The maturity and attention to detail, both live and on Eyelid Movies, is admirable for a band who, after only a few years together, have already shown that they are ready to become mainstays of the electronic scene.  And even if they don’t, I’m sure they’ll keep making the music they love anyway.

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~ by E. on February 19, 2010.

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