Google Artist of the Week: Phantogram

For the last fifteen years, indie pop has largely consisted of suburbanites fiddling with guitars, writing self-consciously poetic lyrics and wishing they were British. Phantogram is part of a self-correction: indie pop inspired by American hip-hop. Not that the upstate New York duo’s debut album Eyelid Movies is an outright rap record -- there is no rapping, after all. But the strong hip-hop flavor in Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel’s compositions is undeniable, from the same type of vinyl pops and hisses you might hear on a DJ Premier track to drum programming inspired by Jam Master Jay.

"When I'm Small" Phantogram

"As Far As I Can See" Phantogram



But more than these relatively minor embellishments, hip-hop’s spirit permeates the music. The title of “Mouthful of Diamonds” sounds like an ode to oral jewelry, and Barthel quotes Biggie Smalls at the beginning (“high on your own supply”). But her straightforward soprano register is a million miles away from the drug trade in Bed-Stuy, and it’s clear that the hip-hop is more of a cultural reference than a sonic one.

Though Phantogram’s songwriting is influenced by Death Cab for Cutie, built on delay-pedal guitars and a combination lightness/sadness, Carter and Barthel liberally mine a forgotten realm of alt-fusion from the ‘90s: Primitive Radio Gods; “Loser”-era Beck; and post-Sebadoh Lou Barlow. Ninja Tune downtempo also looms -- British by way of American, hip-hop slowed down and smoothed out for the cocktail lounge.

‘90s nostalgia is reaching a fever pitch, and Phantogram are hardly alone in mining the nexus between alternative and hip-hop. This year, Seattle indie label Sub Pop (best known for breaking grunge) has signed the celebrated hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces and chillwave sensations Washed Out. And the blurring of genres is floating around in the larger pop sphere, too, largely unnoticed but evident to everyone who listens. Kanye West’s “Runaway” embodies this dynamic -- moody hip-hop with more singing than rapping, and a watery feel in the bass line. With its single-note piano line and slow-moving breakbeat, “Runaway” could easily be a Phantogram song.

Phantogram’s label Barsuk has been into melding genres for a while, broadening the pop/rock palette with bands like with Aqueduct and Menomena. Phantogram’s relaxed hip-hop speaks to an indie pop constituency, while on the flipside, Kanye runs hip-hop through Europeanizations. They end up in the same places. So though the two acts aren’t exactly peers, Phantogram is nonetheless at the forefront of this fusion energy -- in its low-key, indie pop way. -- Andrew Matson

"When I'm Small" Phantogram

"As Far As I Can See" Phantogram

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

if you dont love phantogram you should get the hell out of america!

Tim H. said...

Love these guys. Great feature.

Anonymous said...

Agree strongly with Anon.

Anonymous said...

Just discovered Phantogram and can't stop listening to "Mouth Full of Diamonds" and "When I'm small". Sarah (my future wife) has a beautiful voice and a suuuuuuper sexy style to match. Can't wait for them to come to Austin in Nov.

Anonymous said...

"...a little late, we are." -Yoda

Amazing record.

Anonymous said...

Late for what? Good music is timeless.

Josh said...

Love this one. They deserve some attention.

krafteebeaver said...

I don't know about hip-hop, but after a few listens it's my favorite album right now. Sounds more dance oriented to me, but whatever.

Miss Emelie said...

Great duo!

ikari said...

Thank you for making me discover them!

Anonymous said...

Solid album, but too bad I can't say the same about their live show.

BamaQ said...

I love this group. I recently discovered them on a Google TV channel. I'm a new fan. Never saw them live, tho. Lol.

Anonymous said...

Biggie Smalls was not the first person to say “gtting high on your own supply”. Jesus.

JJ Daddy-O said...

Saw them at Coachella '10 and they put on a great show- immediately went out and bought their music

PopeJamal said...

"if you dont love phantogram you should get the hell out of america!"

If anything makes me want to give this a listen, it's insightful comments like this. Keep up the good work!

blair said...

Seriously but this album is almost a year old. how about some NEW music.

Anonymous said...

They've been recording and producing a new EP as well as touring all year.

these are hard working good ol' musicians who choose to use an interesting blend of synth and traditional rock instruments. Aside from amazing loop harmonies and intense grooves, Sarah Barthel sings incredibly. I apologize to whoever saw a bad show, but I've seen them before with their new drummer and I'm going back for more in november

Anonymous said...

Awesome group! Their new drummer is fantastic!

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