Album Review: “Voices” by Phantogram

Music is a curious thing. It can bring our moods up when we are feeling down. It can inspire us to grow as people, help us move on from heartbreak, and teach us lessons that good ol’ mom and pops never could seem to do. And sometimes (these are the best times) we simply find something that just sounds so.damn.good and speaks to our soul in a language that can’t be translated or forgotten. Music introduces us to a world that we’ve never been to before and (when we’re lucky) we find ourselves falling in love with it in a way that no human being could ever come close to making us feel.

This is how I felt about the album “Voices” by the American duo Phantogram. First, let’s take a look at these gorgeous humans (I mean…swoon):



Other than the fact that Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter are obvious eye candy, they are (more importantly) some talented MFers. Their story is really cute, too: they were friends since preschool days who reconnected after leaving town for school and feeling somewhat unhappy with what they’d accomplished. Fate intervened and Phantogram was born (thank GOD). What they’ve produced since then has been nothing less than magic. Sarah is the main voice and keyboards behind the music while Josh offers guitar and occasional vocals, and together they define what they’ve created as “electronic rock, dream pop, electronica and trip hop”, while describing their sound as “street beat psych pop”. I don’t claim to understand what any of that actually means, but their creations sound amazing which is all that matters. Their first album Eyelid Movies was released in 2010 to positive reviews, with the song “When I’m Small” standing out above the rest and delivering them some initial notoriety.

The magic really happened when Voices was released in 2014. When I think back to what my life was like at that point and how their music impacted me, I get a bit emotional as many do when their lives have been strongly influenced by an unforgettable album. I was living in Phoenix, AZ, at the time and not feeling particularly excited about where my life was heading (which was nowhere, to be exact). I remember taking a drive by myself to Sedona and turning on Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature when the song “Fall in Love” came on by them. I was all, “Who is this and where have they been all my life?!”, which is what I assume the point of that feature was. I must have listened to that song 200 times in a row (possibly more) before deciding that I needed to see what else Phantogram was about.

The best song on the Voices album is arguably “I Don’t Blame You”, in which the listener sees Josh take the main stage, a rarity indeed:

This song stood out to me because I was at a time in my life where pointing fingers at other people for the situation I’d gotten myself into was a daily occurrence. I wanted so badly to make everyone else wrong when deep down I knew that I was the only person to blame for the precarious situation I was in at that point. With the lyrics “I don’t blame you” in repetition throughout, a chord was struck within me and I knew that the cosmos had aligned and I was meant to hear this album. No fancy lyrics here, just a hypnotic beat and some words that resonated with my situation. I was hooked.

Both Sarah and Josh have said in interviews that each of the songs on the Voices album are “open to interpretation”, with Sarah notably stating “The record is meant to be for whomever is listening. Those people who have personal demons is the best way to describe it, there isn’t any anger trying to come out, it just seems like it in some lyrics like the ‘The Day You Died’. It seems to be directed towards somebody, but it’s meant to be directed towards whatever is in your life that is upsetting you.”

This is what I love most about Phantogram. Their music doesn’t need to be dissected and googled in order to figure out what the messages are; they just want to hit their listeners in a profound way while allowing them to relate each song to whatever they might be encountering in life. Some other standouts from the Voices album include:

“Howling at the Moon” expresses some sort of frustration with a situation that remains pretty vague. Although the problem might be unclear, Sarah’s disaffected vocals indicate that she’s tormented by something. When I hear this track I feel her frustration in the best of ways. Other standout songs include “Bad Dreams”, “The Day You Died”, the album’s opener, “Nothing But Trouble”, and another personal favorite, “Black Out Days”:

But let’s be real. All of the songs on this album are amazing in their own ways. The beats, the vocals, the synthesizers (!)…this album will make you feel happy, sad, conflicted, inspired, and haunted all at once. I could truly ramble on and on for hours about how much I adore Phantogram and the Voices album but in all reality, you should probably just go for a drive and blast this one as loud as you possibly can for a couple of hours to feel the magic yourself.


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