The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have been recent mainstays in the electronica world thanks to their melding of lush vocals, hip-hop beats, samples, and guitars. This year, their profiles have expanded further in part due to their collaboration with Big Boi as the supergroup Big Grams and also thanks to the duo bringing a bigger sound with Three, their third album, which netted them a top 10 Billboard debut. But for the longtime fans that can remember their 2009 and 2010 DC9 shows, it was no surprise when Phantogram once again treated the sold-out 9:30 Club to a powerful performance that incorporated interesting projection tricks and hard-hitting sounds from the rock, hip-hop, and electronic worlds.
It’s been almost a year since I regrettably missed Phantogram in D.C., so when I finally had the chance to catch them at Baltimore’s Ram’s Head Live, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Anticipation had built and I was sick and tired of hearing people tell me what a phenomenal set I missed the last time around. So here I was, making a rare trip to Ram’s Head for a night of supposedly stunning electronica accompanied by unknown openers who promise low-key, ambient rhythms. With these expectations in mind, I was pleasantly surprised when Ki:Theory kicked things off in a much more aggressive manner.
What is one supposed to do on an early summer Sunday evening in Baltimore when the Orioles are out town? Well, this weekend the answer is obvious: check out one of the hottest indie pop acts touring right now.
With their October 2011 six song mini-album Nightlife (my famously controversial pick for best release of 2011), the indie electronica/pop group Phantogram offered up a dark, moody record full of bassline-driven, slow, full body rockers, characterized by ethereal vocals and remarkable restraint. On stage, lead songwriter and guitarist Josh Carter is a study in cool as his calm, intense, focus on his guitar playing makes it seem as if he travels into his own world, a world full of fantastic beats and slow, groovy rhythms. By contrast, lead singer and synth player Sarah Barthel sways and gyrates in a slow yet evocative way that hints at energy, barely held back, coming to a boil just beneath the surface. The duo is joined on tour by Tim Oakley, whose drums are key to enlivening the group’s trip hop-influenced sound. Phantogram’s records flirt with dreamy minimalism, but performed live, the songs take on an intensity that never fail to get a crowd bouncing and grooving along.
It's finally here! We've reached the end of yet another year, and as is the custom it's now our duty to try and make some sort of sense of the good, the bad and the outright ugly and put it all into list form for your consumption. Why do we do this? A need for some sense of order? A byproduct of our secret desire to have bands fight it out Hunger Games style for the title of SUPREME MUSICAL OVERLORDS of the year? Who knows.
Now, here at ChunkyGlasses, we all have some wildly varying tastes. Sure there is a common ground, but the phrase "what in the f@#$" has been thrown around quite a bit this year (more often than not by me) as we've made our journey through the musical landscape that 2011 has presented us with. With that in mind you won't ever see an absolute top 10 list. We like too many types of music for that. Instead we're going to give you our individual lists and let you take from that what you will.
So let's get to it. First up we have Ethan's list for the best albums of the year.
Hope you've got your dancin' shoes on.
#10: EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
Grungey, dark, emotional and hard hitting. EMA takes her time, this is an unrushed album so full of slow builders that it is hard to believe that it is only 37 minutes long. At times the pacing is maybe even a little too slow.
Phantogram’s new 6 track EP (or, as they say, “mini-album”) Nightlife is not this kind of record.
Instead, Nightlife is the product of near constant touring in support of their excellent 2010 LP Eyelid Movies, and sees the band more or less picking up exactly where they left off in that last record. On first listen, Nightlife sounds like less of a sequel of Eyelid Movies, but more of a director’s cut or an extension of that first album. All same parts are present: fuzzy, filtered rhythms, Sarah Barthel’s hauntingly beautiful vocals and simple but effective keys, Josh Carter’s darker, more mournful vocals and matching guitars, an overall vibe of beautiful melancholy tinged with bitterness, frustration, and regret. However, on repeat listens, the differences from Eyelid Movies become a bit more apparent. Nightlife is not a major evolution, but frankly, Phantogram did not need a major evolution. Instead we have a band honing their craft on the road and taking incremental but important steps forward.