Phantogram's Nightlife Is an Emotionally Raging Clash Between Light and Dark

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Doron Gild
Phantogram's Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter are partners only in art, not romance, but their new "mini-LP," Nightlife, plays out like a passionately raging clash between two lovers. "Turning Into Stone" and "A Dark Tunnel" both reflect the intimidating dark gloss that typically attends Phantogram's Carter-sung tracks--"I've got new ways of turning into stone," he sings on one song. "I'll shoot down every person that I wanna love . . . I'll bite the head off every little mourning dove," he threatens on the other. The opposing force to his stony pessimism is Barthel, whose songs are lighter and quicker, like skittering heartbeats. (With the exception of the title track, which, contrary to its name, is not a club jam but a slow-seeping burner over which Barthel sighs, "Love was the only thing I ever needed").

The record's opener, "16 Years," is a gorgeously windswept track, propelled upward by a palpitating, jumping drumbeat--"Is this love that I'm feeling again?" Barthel wonders. But the best example of Barthel's contrasting shining light to Carter's dark shadows is the single "Don't Move"--with its choppy claps, brassy horn samples, and sprightly vocals, it's brighter than anything heard on Phantogram's 2010 full-length, Eyelid Movies. Barthel asserts her calming presence again, singing, "All you know how to do is shake, shake/Keep your body still/Keep your body still" (some irony being that the song is so infectious as to render those instructions impossible). Gloom, despair, desire, comfort--the emotional range packed into this story told over six songs is extraordinary.

Nightlife is in stores today. You can listen to it in full below:

"Nightlife" by Phantogram by The Underwire

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