Portishead was on Jimmy Fallon the other night so I headed over to check out the videos of their performances. They have such a distinctive sound to their music - combining haunting vocals, electronic beats, synthesizers, and even dj scratching - I can't think of any band since who's been able to do what...
...and then I thought of Phantogram
Phantogram, an indie electronic-rock music duo out of upstate New York, is 1 part Sarah Barthel (on the keyboards) and 1 part Josh Carter (on the guitar). While Sarah does most of the heavy lifting on vocals, Josh voice has been featured on a few songs and you can sometimes hear him as backup accompaniment. They started out by releasing a few EPs and then in 2009, came out with their first full album: "Eyelid Movies". The album did very well, and they began to get popular outside their home base of Saratoga Springs. Since then, they've been on tour all over North America, Europe and the UK.
Their sound has been described as "lush" and "rich" - words normally attached to food - so why don't we add "delicious" to that list as well...yes,that works: "Their sound is delicious". But their sound is also surprisingly BIG for a duo. BIG, as in White Stripes BIG, as in Sleigh Bells BIG.
But while the other two duos achieve BIG with distortion or amplification (along with a global intensity that pours of the music), Phantogram does it with deft handling of all the sonic textures they put into the mix. The vocals, the synth, the guitar, the sampled loops - it's all arranged so that nothing is drowned out, everything is heard when it's supposed to. The intensity is managed through clever shifts in rhythm and time, their songs have this pleasing "rise and fall" effect that I like. I also like how the songs can explore darkness and sadness without leaving you depressed...there's just the right amount of lightness or "hope" mixed in. The duo even described this themselves as "traveling through a dark tunnel and seeing light at the end", like a state of catharsis... I think that describes it well.
What happens when you strip away all the electronics and effects? You get this:
While on tour during 2010, Sara and Josh wrote all the songs for the next EP, recorded them, and is now back out on tour.The new EP will be entitled "Nightlife" and will be released November 1st this year. In all the interviews I've read, they both seem very happy and excited with what they created; they got to try out new ideas and build upon what they started with the first album. Can't wait to hear what they come up with.
For more infromation
Phantogram on Facebook
Phantogram on Barsuk Records
Preorder the "Nightlife" EP on Itunes