Phantogram – Nightlife EP
aaamusic | On 21, Feb 2012
From the opening bars of their third EP you are struck by a booming and almost relentless drum beat that returns throughout. The opening track, ’16 Years’ utilises this alongside airy vocals that recall Arcade Fire. The strong backing beat is surprising to hear from the New York two-piece, especially when you consider that they are not from the same mould as The Black Keys or White Stripes and neither member of the duo are drummers.
Phantogram certainly seem to be shooting for a rhythmic, electro-pop element and they move a lot closer to that goal with the following track, ‘Don’t Move’. Sounding like a Four Tet remix of a straight indie track, Sarah Barthel calls on the listener to “Shake, shake, shake”, and with the swirling loops and shuffling beat one feels like that is all they can do. For this reason, if nothing else, it is easy to see why this was picked as a single. The dance vibe is not relinquished as the EP continues, ‘Turning in to Stone’ opens with horns and a glitchy back beat, however Josh Carter’s sluggish vocals do nothing for the track, which loses much of its promise by the halfway mark.
Just as the EP feels as though it is running out of steam before it had really got going, in comes ‘Make a Fist’. The coupling of Barthel’s airy vocals and the heavy synth and drum background finally pays off, not to mention the tingling guitar that flows throughout. There’s a real excitement within this track and there seems to be conviction behind the repeated line, “this is the future”, regardless of whether or not it is.
The title track, ‘Nightlife’, finally gives the listener respite from the weight of heavy drums and synth, although they cannot resist including a small dose of each. The track has a gentler feel, opening and closing on the softer sounds of an acoustic guitar. The respite does not last long however, as the EP closes on somewhat of a low with ‘A Dark Tunnel’, sounding industrial in parts, it is once again Sarah Barthel’s soft vocals that attach any redeeming feature.
Overall Phantogram seem to succeed and fail in equal measures with this EP. For the most part it feels as though they are overcompensating for the lack of a drummer, an addition which may move them away from any dance-orientated ambitions they may have, but would surely provide a more balanced output, complementing their pros and diminishing their cons.