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):

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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.

 

An Afternoon in Downtown Jax

Throughout the years during my on-again, off-again relationship with Jacksonville I have heard several (and by “several” I mean all of them) family members and friends complain that the downtown area has nothing to offer and is (for lack of a better term) a “complete shithole”. Lately I’ve been wanting to go check it out for myself and see if these rumors were true or not. Sure, downtown is a spectacular sight at night; the bridge and buildings are all showing off in the dark with their lovely light displays while the St. John’s river lazily drifts north and reflects off of the moonlight. Anyone passing through town on 95 would easily assume that there is a lot to offer within those tall buildings and tantalizing views…buttt I’m not much of risk taker and decided that I wanted to give downtown a shot to dazzle me during the day (broad daylight to be exact).

I will say this: there are a LOT of homeless people downtown and they LOVE the library (who knew?). I wish I would’ve had my “real” camera with me because I could have gotten some amazing shots (from far away) of these lovely folks I saw lying around on park benches, congregating in alley ways smoking joints…ahem, cigarettes…together, or walking around talking to themselves about things that were tough to decipher from where I was standing. All of them looked like they had some fantastic stories to tell, but I was alone and not necessarily ready for such an…immersive introduction quite yet. So in lieu of making new friends, I decided to head into the library first. My my, what a beautiful sight. If anyone reading this ever needs ANY book that was EVER written by ANY author, you should probably check this place out. Three stories lined wall to wall with countless books and magazines…knowledge of the antiquated dewy decimal system will help no one in this place. Only a licensed and insured librarian would know where to find anything (is that a thing? Because if not, I just made it one). This library is a dream come true for someone needing specific information for a research paper when their professor won’t allow them to use online resources (aka, me). Okay okay, so I HAD to go to the library that day anyhow, but I figured it was a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone:

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A lovely entrance indeed

 

After scoping out the place (specifically the Florida Room – if you ever visit, make sure to go up there, you won’t regret it) and checking out some books on Andy Warhol needed for the above-mentioned project, I decided to walk around Hemming Plaza. I must say, there is no city in Florida quite like Jacksonville – the architecture alone stands out and is paradise for those wanting to get away from the typical pink stucco and palm tree themed views we’ve all grown so accustomed to. Fun fact: According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are more buildings built before 1967 in Jacksonville than any other city in Florida (although most buildings do not predate the Great Fire of 1901 unfortunately). The only other place I’ve found somewhat comparable in terms of architecture worth noting is Ybor City in Tampa, which makes sense since that area is so rich in history as well. I also noticed a growing street art scene going on downtown although my phone died and I wasn’t able to grab as many pictures as I was hoping for:

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Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
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Hemming Plaza street art – my personal favorite
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Always love a good run down, lonely looking building
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This place is definitely on my list

All in all I’d say that downtown Jacksonville is rich in history and full of potential. Would I call it a “shithole”? Definitely not, although some parts are arguably seedier than others. I would urge the powers that be in Jax to focus on some sort of downtown revival if it’s not already happening. It’s definitely easy on the wanna-be-photographer’s eyes (me), but not a place I’d bring visiting friends or relatives to for a day of fun, as it has a ghost town vibe to it (not counting my homeless friends, they’re definitely out and about in full force) and there really doesn’t seem to be much going on which is disappointing. Maybe I’d bring visitors there for an hour…or 30 minutes…then we would likely hop on over to Riverside (or basically anywhere OTHER than Top Golf, let’s be honest).

 

The Cummer Museum

I had a (very rare) night off a few weeks ago and was faced with the never-ending internal debate that comes with good old “nothing to do” territory: do I stay home and mindlessly watch Hulu for the millionth time in a row like the sloth I want so badly to be, or do I go out and explore something new in Jacksonville like all of the real humans do?

I chose to be a real human and decided to take advantage of the “free to the public” deal that Cummer Museum was offering that evening. I hadn’t been to a museum in years and found myself a little more excited about this than I felt I should be, considering I was going alone (I later realized that going to a museum alone is a much better experience than going with groups of people who want to insert their never ending, always vocal opinions onto every.piece.of.artwork).

I don’t proclaim to know much about art. My brain has a very selective memory, a memory that oft chooses to forget specific names, dates, and details surrounding pretty much everything (I will never be a contestant on Jeopardy, let’s put it that way). I tend to remember specific details about how something made me feel rather than the facts surrounding it which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a thing that can make me seem like a dolt when asked questions people generally answer with ease, such as, “Who’s your favorite artist?”, or, “What piece did you enjoy the most during your visit to ____ museum?” (insert blank stare here). But if I were asked how perusing all that Cummer Museum had to offer made me feel, I would gladly engage them with a delighted recount of my experience.

I felt at home there. Much like I do whenever I’m in a beautiful museum or an old bookstore or hiking trails on a mountain while taking pictures of a spectacular sunset. It’s a feeling of comfort and peace that I find so rare in a world full of stress and discontent (and traffic, I’m looking at you 295). Each section of the museum is dedicated to a different time period and has pictures so rich in history and color that you can’t help but feel sucked into whatever the artist was trying to communicate to their audience. Some pictures left me feeling uneasy, such as this haunting Norman Rockwell piece titled “Second Holiday” (special thanks to my camera for storing this information that I otherwise would have forgotten):

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Some pieces made me wish I could travel back in time just to see what all the fuss was about:

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Back when men greatly outnumbered women and competition was fierce. I’m rooting for the sullen looking violin player myself.

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And some left me feeling oh-so-inspired. Surprisingly enough, my favorite pieces in the museum were not paintings to be hung on walls, but rather, some of the most glorious, fall-out-your-chair-they’re-so-lovely porcelain dazzlers I’ve ever had the chance to lay my eyes on. Enjoy:

Meissen figurines and pieces are an interior designer to-be’s dream world, and I was loving every minute that I spent surrounded by these hand-painted beauties.

All in all, a wonderful couple of hours was spent at the Cummer Museum on that fateful evening that I fought the sloth within. Here’s to many more trips to come!

::And to any newbies: Just remember not to take pictures in the traveling exhibits no matter how badly you want to, trust me. I was approached within seconds of doing so by some formidable looking guards and for a second thought I might be going to museum jail if that’s a thing?::

 

Kylie Paige – An Introduction

It’s honestly a little difficult to completely narrow down my culture being that it shifted quite a bit at certain points in my life. I was born in Orlando, FL to parents who had both been born and raised in small town Central Florida, Mt. Dora and Eustis to be exact. Between my mother and father’s families I am of English, Irish, French and German descent, although still I’m not sure what (if any) cultural impact this had on my life. My parents were what raised in what most would consider to be a traditionally Southern environment: Baptist church every Sunday, home cooking, good manners, and generally conservative beliefs, although I understand that they began to change a few years before they had me, deciding that they wanted to live and raise their future children in a more liberal, open-minded environment. They were both young, twenty-something year old’s who were (in my opinion) basically still kids developing their own opinions and deciding on their own moral codes when they had me. Early on they were avid pot smokers who verbally protested how it should be legalized frequently. I’m not saying this for any other reason than that it had a huge influence on them and the way they viewed the world, which, in turn, determined a lot with regard to my own upbringing.

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Mom
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Standard Olan Mills family photo (’85)

When they weren’t voicing their opinions on that, they enjoyed taking me to the beach and/or Disney World every weekend and introducing me to their love for 70’s rock. I grew up listening to Tom Petty, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Doobie Brothers (to name a few) on heavy rotation. I guess you could say that, in a nutshell, I was raised by free thinkers who wanted me to be my own person, just like they were trying to be. That doesn’t mean that their Southern roots weren’t apparent in our household; for example, I was introduced to small-town gossip, hush puppies, collard greens and hunting/fishing pretty early on in life (I still love collard greens and fishing).

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Disney (I was 5 and tired)

When my parents divorced I was 5 years old. My mother moved us down to Miami, FL while my father moved to Charleston, SC for his job (Navy). I was immersed in the culture of South Florida at this point, something extremely unfamiliar to me. I made friends and learned about Cuban and Caribbean culture, eating Cuban sandwiches at corner diners and drinking watermelon soda while (secretly) feeling envious of those who could speak Spanish. I felt like pretty much the only person in my school who couldn’t, but throughout the years I eventually learned to speak and understand it rather well. When I entered middle school my mother decided that she wanted to start taking me to church to set a “better example”, so we began attending a Catholic church in Davie, FL. Once again I felt slightly out of place as I was pretty much the only kid who hadn’t had their first communion since I technically came from a Southern Baptist family. I have a tough time determining what cultural influence my mother really instilled in me at this point other than how important it was to believe in God and have proper etiquette – please, thank you, yes ma’am, no sir, use the fork furthest to the left, etc etc. I complied but was honestly already a bit stuck in my ways due to the influence from my earlier childhood – I preferred a simpler way of life that included going to the beach, listening to rock music, going to the roller rink and reading every book I could get my hands on. My mother was a hard worker who didn’t like to ask anyone for handouts, and there are times I remember her working 2-3 jobs just to make it by and support our small family. She was with my (ex) stepfather for 8 years and he was as Italian as they came – I watched him cook all of the traditional Italian dishes and learned all of their customs (which mostly centered around food if we’re being honest). I even learned some funny Italian expressions along the way, a couple of which I still use out of pure habit. When I entered high school my mother met and married her current husband who is as southern as they come – he’s from Texas – and I was then introduced to biscuits n’ gravy, cowboy boots and classic country music (Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn are his favorites), all of which I grew an appreciation for in their own right.

I’d like to think that I’m a combination of the various cultures that I was exposed to growing up and I fully appreciate the fact that I was exposed to so many different, interesting lifestyles. I believe that it’s made me more open minded to other cultures and has allowed me to easily adapt in unfamiliar environments and develop amazing friendships with people from numerous backgrounds. For that, I really am grateful.

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My father’s side of the fam (current – brothers, cousins, aunts/uncles, grandmother)
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Mom’s side of the fam (last year – stepbrother, stepsis, brother in law, nephews)
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My best friends since high school (South Fl)