Phantogram has achieved an astounding level of success since self-releasing their eponymous debut EP in 2009. Given the myriad of projects and collaborators they’ve been involved with recently, it appears the band may be graduating from indie trailblazers to mainstream innovators.
The duo comprising longtime pals Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel formed Phantogram in 2007 in upstate New York. They were heavily inspired by a myriad of artists and genres such as The Flaming Lips, J Dilla, David Bowie, and Prince, which accounts for their genre-bending sound that at its core evokes ’80s synth pop and electronica.
After a flurry of successful EPs and two widely praised LPs, the band teamed up with former collaborator Big Boi to devise a brand new project, the aptly titled Big Grams, and released an ambitious, eclectic debut EP that merges hip hop and electronica.
The success of that effort, and perhaps the tactful decision to expand their fanbase, establishes Phantogram’s third full-length LP, Three, as the most anticipated release of this week. And with so many eyes on them at this pivotal point in their career, Barthel and Carter deliver the goods.
The two band members experienced a tragedy last year when Barthel’s sister committed suicide, and it is perhaps their bereavement that cloaks this album with a sort of haunting, ardent energy. It is a little eerier and heavier both thematically and instrumentally, and the dense production lends to an unrelentingly dark, yet danceable album. Tracks like “Same Old Blues” and “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” are fiery and blunt, with Barthel hitting those tenacious high notes, while a song such as “Cruel World” is more bombastic and morose.
The bottom line is that Three might be the turning point for Phantogram as they’ve hit on something so difficult and rare — remaining authentic and inspired while traversing into the mainstream. And with an album that is more elaborate, dynamic, and a nuanced than their previous efforts, they’ve picked just the right project to take them there.
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