Phantogram – Nightlife

written by: November 14, 2011
phantogram-nightlife Release Date: November 1, 2011


Bursting onto the scene less than two years ago with their debut album Eyelid Movies, Phantogram has established a highly-reputable form of airy electronic rock. On their second studio release, guitarist Josh Carter and keyboardist Sarah Barthel experiment in defining texture in their already multifaceted sound.

This New York duo has toured with the likes of Beach House, Yeasayer and Minus the Bear, and played major festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and SXSW—a pretty impressive resume for an act with only one full-length album. The self-proclaimed “street beat” of songs like “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Running from the Cops” on Eyelid Movies has translated well onto their newest mini-album, Nightlife, on Barsuk Records.

In a world where genres are undefined, Barthel and Carter further their need for non-categorization by mixing fundamentals of shoegaze, pop, indie-rock, jazz, electronica and hip-hop.

The airy, dream-like tendencies splattered throughout Nightlife and mixture of organic and tech beats are tantalizing. Barthel howls while Carter follows closely along with an underlying guitar lick creating a dynamic atmosphere.

Previously pulling inspiration from ‘90s hip-hop, first single “Don’t Move” demonstrates a much more modern flavor accompanied by their street-beat style. The continuous looping of sampled beats, poppy horn and percussion texture is highly infectious, while Barthel’s vocals float through the skipping synth and pulsing bass. The chorus ends with “keep your body still,” an impossible demand with such danceable riffs.

The dark melodies of its predecessor have been granted light and diverse functionality this time around. The catchy, yet matured beats of Nightlife are layered thick with even more raw sounds from Carter and synthetic collages from Barthel. This album is a progression in the right direction for the small-town duo from Saratoga Springs, NY.

To prove it, they pack a powerful punch with engulfing sounds and a multitude of textures. It’s hard to believe only two people can create such diverse layers, but Phantogram’s 3-dimensional style embraces the format ofsongs like “Mouthful of Diamonds” while drifting away from not-so-awesome structures like “You are the Ocean” off Eyelid Movies.

Beginning with an acoustic intro, title track “Nightlife” is a dreamy lullaby. The instrumentals are less abrasive and Barthel’s vocals are more stunning than ever. An ode to a 1980s love ballad, this song stands out from the rest of the up-tempo tracks. It’s bright and whimsical, and gracefully exits on a repeated loop of the line: “Love is the only thing I ever needed.”

Where Phantogram fell short last time, they made up for it this time. Even though it’s a mini-album, Nightlife has outdone Eyelid Movies with diverse textures, countless layers and a more mature sound. If these New Yorkers keep going in the right direction, we have a lot to look forward to in their next release.

Phantogram – Nightlife tracklist:

  1. “16 Years”
  2. “Don’t Move”
  3. “Turning into Stone”
  4. “Make a Fist”
  5. “Nightlife”
  6. “A Dark Tunnel”