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New Music Tuesday: Phantogram • Shocking Pinks

NEW-MUSIC-TUESDAY

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.



PhantogramVoices

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Black Out Days”
“Fall in Love”
“The Day You Died”

Album Highlights: Almost exactly four years after dropping Eyelid Movies, the upstate New York duo returns with its long-anticipated, second full-length album. Lead singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist/producer Josh Carter, of course, haven’t slowed down since then, releasing two EPs — Nightlife (2011) and Phantogram (2013) — and collaborating with such big-name artists as The Flaming Lips and Big Boi of Outkast over that stretch. But as the band’s major label debut, Voices proves that Phantogram is ready for the big leagues. While singles like “Nothing But Trouble” and “Fall in Love” have taken the airwaves by storm over the past month, “Black Out Days” stands as arguably the album’s top track. With Barthel’s haunting vocals fluttering over one of Carter’s subtle trip-hop beats, it may not be long before the song is running up the Billboard charts, in fact. There’s also the gloomy, yet airy “Bill Murray,” which could foreseeably find its way into a Wes Anderson flick someday — he does have a knack for casting the award-winning actor in his movies, after all. As good as it gets, Voices is more fitted for a particular mood, one you might feel when you’re lying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning with a hangover. These definitely aren’t the LMFAO party bangers you heard at the club the night before, but there remains a certain dance-ability to them, too.

Album Lowlight: Voices peaks early with three of the album’s best offerings to start, but it eventually hits a speed bump on “Never Going Home.” Featuring Carter on the mic, the tune takes a page out of Phil Collins’ early Genesis days, yet never quite hits the right notes. It’s not the only one. “I Don’t Blame You” lacks a melody hook, falling flat from the very outset, as Carter’s distorted vocals wear thin before not too long. Maybe there’s a trend here when it comes to singing duties, although it’s hard to say that all of Barthel’s work is spot-on, either. “Celebrating Nothing” and “My Only Friend” help pick things up back before it’s all over, but Voices fails to regain the momentum it conjures up toward the beginning. Though the lowlights stand few and far between on Voices, Barthel and Carter certainly don’t knock every song out of the park.

Takeaway: When Phantogram left Barsuk Records and signed on to Universal Republic last year, you knew there was a good chance that the band’s sound would offer even more mainstream appeal than 2009’s Eyelid Movies. And while that certainly is true here, Voices still manages not to come off as contrived or shallow. Sure, the beats are catchy — take the one Carter draws up on “Bad Dreams” for instance — but it’s the band’s lyrical content that remains genuine, as Barthel tackles difficult topics like loneliness, breakup and death over nearly 45 minutes.

-Josh Herwitt



Shocking PinksGuilt Mirrors

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Love Projection (Dedicated to Jerry Fuchs)”
“St. Louis” featuring Gemma Syme
“Beyond Dreams”

Album Highlights: It’s been one helluva long wait for fans of New Zealand’s king of off-kilter dance-punk, Nick Harte. And those who call themselves fans of Shocking Pinks got not one LP worth of material to delve into, rather a triple album full of his skewed creations. Yes, I said triple album. Even more insane is the fact that Harte said he surfaced from this lengthy recording session with over 300 demos, all products of a tumultuous time dealing with repeated earthquakes in his hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand (even claiming you can hear them in certain songs). 

As a whole, this release is really impressive, and it’s somewhat easy to see the genius which lies in Harte. His dedication to both his craft and his sound is something to admire, not to mention his pentient for doing things his own way, even if it takes 7 years to get it in the public’s hands. What Harte has made is a expansive, and conceptual, dance-punk album that feels better suited for a pair of audiophile headphones than the club or a venue. The first LP, Guilt Mirrors I, is a great acclamation into this mammoth recording, showing off dancey beats, shoe-gazesque guitar sections and industrial elements piled on top of each other neatly. A few guest appearances (Designer Violence, Arkitype and Ashlin Frances Raymond) scattered throughout help to shift in some varied influences and sounds. From there, the subsequent albums retain a similar feel, with a few noise opuses, “Beyond Dreams,” tossed in for good measure. 

Album Lowlights: Sure, this release isn’t for everyone, but I imagine you already know that. Fans of legendary old New Zealand act, the Bats, part of the Dunedin sound, will already be familiar with Harte and Shocking Pinks, and will subsequently be playing Guilt Mirrors for a week, even month, straight. I have little doubt that this act will attract a newer generation to appreciate the darker, shoegaze aura that accompanies. The resurgence of My Bloody Valentine last year could bode well, too. I suppose what I am trying to say is that this music is not or everyone, as it broods and slugs along in it’s avant-garde nature. Some of the filler, like “Hardfuck,” is extreme and will likely be skipped over after a few listens, as well.

Takeaway: In a nutshell, an entirely satisfying aural experience by a true, under-the-radar artist who takes no prisoners in his creative process. There are questions of  the effectiveness(physical release and touring) of this release and Shocking Pinks, but it’s clear that is not this acts intention, so we should just sit back and listen. Standout single, “St. Louis,” is one of the gems that will be singularly gleaned by some listeners, as others will worship this massive suite of tunes for a long time to come.

-Kevin Quandt


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  1. […] the release of its new full-length album Voices last month, the upstate New York duo is hotter than ever before, selling out venues all […]

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