The New York-based electronic alternative duo, Phantogram, released their third studio album, Three, in early October.
The album contains heavy elements of electronic grunge sounds, with dark synths, glitch riffs, quick electronic drumbeats and the powerful female vocals of singer Sarah Barthel.
Barthel, whose recognizable voice is one of the main things allowing Phantogram to stand out, plays a vital role in this new record. It resonates over the darker tones of synths and beats, but manages to complement those tones with her higher pitched voice that seems soft but holds to be powerful.
Often categorized as trip-hop, or electronic pop, Three fits these genres and more with similar formulas used throughout many of the tracks.
Songs like “Funeral Pyre,” “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” and “Run Run Blood” are all relatively dark with minor chords that join along with electronic beats and tones. They all have the strong female vocals of Barthel in common, and a darker synth bass line is laid down throughout each track with heavy electronic drums.
This album is certainly not light or easy listening, as many of the tracks resonate with either heavy beats, strong electronic riffs or vocals coming from either the female or male in the duo.
Glitchy and electronic grunge are common themes and the best words used to describe this album. Having some feel of alternative rock, the sounds and styles throughout play out more as electronic music but still do not really fit in one or two genres. The slower beats could arguably classify as hip-hop as well with glimpses of vocals that seem to be more spoken than sung.
The latter half of the album, however, is a little less electronic and uses a bit more real instruments. “Destroyer” and “Barking Dog” are examples of songs that use real instruments such as strings and a regular guitar to give this album a different feel. As these songs progress, the band does revert back to what the rest of the album has to offer, but it’s nice to not have everything on the album be dark and electric.
The record as a whole does not do the best job of combining the dark tones with the electronic synths and becomes repetitive. It’s hard to distinguish one song from another as many used similar electronic diffs with dark vibes. The bright spot of the album is the vocals. Barthel’s voice, as strong as it is, bodes well with this genre and stands out over what sounds like negative music. Another positive is when the male vocals occasionally come in and compliment or harmonize with Barthel.
“Answer”: Easily my favorite track on the album, the one instance of a real piano works well with the darker vibes that surround it. The song works around soft chords, accompanied by female and male vocals, which rotate each verse. This track is the most positive song on the record and as the song progresses, the build starts to grow and crescendos into a slow beat with electric guitar and what seems to be the most similar sound to a rock song on the album. This beat then continues with the original piano chords making for a nice slow song with a deep, heavy beat.
“Calling All”: This song starts off really unique with an interesting electronic organ type sound that is laid down throughout the song. The beat is quick and sounds like the most natural and organic drums on the album. The vocals are a bit spoken word, but it works with the quick beat and chords. The vocals are also modified for this song, making it sound even more electronic.
Phantogram will be playing at 9:30 club in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 25 and 26. Check back for a review of the concert.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Kathryn Parson Photography on Flickr.
Vidal Serfaty is a junior broadcast journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.