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Phantogram – Nightlife EP

on November 18, 2011, 7:58am

In a 2010 interview with our own Drew Litowitz, trip-pop duo Phantogram said its name—a two-dimensional object that appears 3D—is perfect, because they’re a “two piece band, two dimensions, and we make a stereophonic, bigger sound than the two of us.” After last year’s full-length Eyelid Movies and two EPs, this effect is nowhere more evident than on Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter’s fourth collection of sonic collages, Nightlife. Whether sampling Otis Redding on “Turning Into Stone” or looping call-and-response vocal samples on “Don’t Move”, Phantogram creates a panoply of sounds and textures. Brighter and more bombastic than Phantogram’s previous releases, this new EP is more than enough to hold listeners over until the band’s next full-length.

“16 Years” opens the album with ambitious guitars and a simple drum line, instead of the band’s usually dense synthesizers. Even though this arrangement allows Barthel’s voice welcome room to breathe, it’s not the most sonically compelling track. “Make A Fist”, on the other hand, takes a different tactic, focusing on different kinds of rhythms and beats to support Barthel’s stuttering, sexy hisses and gasps.

On “Don’t Move”, she transforms those breathy utterances into lyric negations filled with ridiculously catchy synths: “I’m not your fortune teller/I’m not your spinning bed/I’m nothing like you/I’m comfortable, too/This is starting to fuck with my head.” This aggressive self-defense belies the confidence behind brazen horn riffs and truncated, orchestral beats reminiscent of oft-cited influence J Dilla.

“Turning Into Stone” is perhaps the best example of Phantogram’s layered samples, starting with more horns courtesy of “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” before snapping an industrial beat and ghostly, swelling background synths. Carter, who helms the vocals on this one, channels Barthel’s breathy luster. It starkly contrasts with “A Dark Tunnel”, on which he echoes Tunde Adebimpe’s desperate croon against crunk, buzzing 8-bit synthesizers. “Don’t try to tell me that you love me ‘cause you don’t,” he sings. But, after listening to Nightlife’s all too brief, explosive 26.9 minutes, I do. I really do.

Essential Tracks: “Don’t Move”, “Turning Into Stone”