Phantogram has been tearing through city after city and they’ve completed the entire late night TV circuit in support of their latest album, Three. On March 12 they’ll be wrapping up a weekend long celebration for the reopening of Palace Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a venue that’s been renovated and will be under the same management as the legendary First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
The electro-pop sounds of Phantogram are so much deeper than anyone many could compare them to in the pop world. Sample heavy, guitar laden trips through the minds of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter can take you from intense highs to exploring inner darkness and lay you back down to dreamy relaxation. I’ve compiled a list of songs you won’t want to miss if you are just starting to listen to this group.
You Don’t Get Me High Anymore (2016, Three) – One of the bigger hits from Three, this track wastes very little time getting into a heavy groove. A theme that’s prevalent in much of Phantogram’s music can be heard here – the contrast between the bigger, anthemic segments and the slower, more delicate parts.
You’re Mine (2016, Three) – A personal favorite off of Three, loud, thumping bass drum brings you into the vocal section with Sarah and Josh trading stanzas. Sarah’s playful vocal style is one of the trademarks of Phantogram and we hear that here in full force. The tremolo effect of the first pre-chorus sample and the instrumentation in the bridge give the track the dreamy, trippy feel that they use so well.
Answer (2016, Three) – I’ve heard this song out in the wild more times than any other song from this album. Darker tones in this song lead up to a triumphant, climactic bridge section that blur the lines between their pop sound and some traditional indie rock and even into shoegaze territory when the vocals return. A great showcase of what kind of scenery Phantogram can implement into any one of their songs seemingly from nowhere.
Black Out Days (2014, Voices) – Further examples here of Sarah’s unique vocal performances in a song that’s been a crowd favorite since its release. Not a song that progresses through as many stages as you will hear in a lot of their work, but a solid beat and intriguing vocal layering make this a good song.
Howling At The Moon (2014, Voices) – Beginning with a somewhat cinematic guitar riff we burst into this song, but we’re really here for the chorus of this song. In the second verse in particular we get to hear Sarah giving us some of her best on vocals. Her pure, clean voice comes through this track wonderfully on the album mix and nothing is lost in the live performance of this song either.
Bill Murray (2014, Voices) – Really taking a step back to a calmer place now, this song almost feels like an indie rock standard with Josh going through some clean chords in the intro but the electronic bass line reminds us who we’re listening to. Great chill song, good one to soak up and really feel it for yourself.
Don’t Move (2011, Nightlife) – Simply put, a good mood lifter. Playful samples paired with some airier vocals from Sarah. Tough one not to sing along to no matter who you are in my opinion. Josh lays down some nice texture on guitar behind the verses really help add to this song. This may be one of the more defining songs from Phantogram – at least in this decade.
Turning Into Stone (2011, Nightlife) – Josh takes primary vocal duty in this song, something he does on occasion. He’s really the star of this track between his performance on guitar and giving us a moody vocal performance. Sarah comes in during the choruses with her delicate voice to rescue us from the mood Josh has established. The highlight of this song for me comes after that first chorus, when Josh breaks into some ripping tremolo-picked guitar lines that make an interesting pairing with the heavily electronic feel of the song. The wash at the end of the song resolves all of the feeling that had been building up for the previous three minutes and change.
Mouthful of Diamonds (2009, Eyelid Movies) – This song has to be viewed as the definitive Phantogram song and it came right off the bat on their first album. The song kicks in with an almost retro but definitely dated sounding instrumental section before Josh’s clean guitar comes in to guide us to the verse. The marriage between the electronic elements and the clean indie-style guitar is prevalent on this record and this was one fine way to introduce us all to it. Sarah’s vocals reach into the stratosphere during the choruses, really something to behold.
When I’m Small (2009, Eyelid Movies) – I’ll admit this, I was not a big fan of this song. I heard this song way too many times on Gillette commercials on TV and I got pretty sick of it, never really paid much attention to it on the album. Everything changed the night I saw Phantogram live at First Avenue. The mood set in the quieter parts of the chorus set the stage for an astounding vocal performance during the outro that unfortunately gets lost in the mix on the album, but blew my socks off live.
Futuristic Casket (2009, Eyelid Movies) – Greeting us at the beginning of this track is a beat that would be at home in any hip-hop song. Josh comes in on vocals and delivers a really nice performance . Hearing the song blend from the higher powered instrumentation during the verse to the calming, sparkling keyboard present in the chorus is what stands out most in this song to me. As the outro begins the rest of the instruments fade out and the keyboard is still there, as cheery as it had been in the choruses, but now seaming to be yearning, reaching for something out of reach.
All Dried Up (2009, Eyelid Movies) – When I was first introduced to Phantogram, I was shown Eyelid Movies in it’s original track order on a CD in someone’s car. I was in high school and was deep into a post-rock craze and I really let the first four songs of this album buzz straight over my head. I wasn’t into it. I wasn’t about electronics or even vocals at that point in my life. As the end of the second chorus of this song played I knew I had to go back for it and find the track with the killer tremolo picking that was all the rage in my head at the time. I grew to love Sarah’s vocal performance in this song, she’s into outer space on the register in this song. The song that started it all for me.
Phantogram is currently sold out for their show at Palace Theatre in Saint Paul, but be sure to catch them if they ever do come back around to your town. They’re one of the most authentic bands I’ve witnessed live, they can replicate the album experience so well on stage and even have a live drummer and someone manipulating samples live on stage. An excellent show, but be sure to buy tickets early!