REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha


Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

The second slice in this EP sandwich is very hit and miss, but surprisingly contains a modern pop classic.

Voices_album_coverPhantogram - 'Voices' out on 30th June (Island Records)

This is such a difficult album to review for a man who thinks that recording a song via your iPhone is something of a luxury. The production on this album is slicker than Grace Slick and Slick Rick swimming in an oil slick. The band have been seen prancing around America with none other than Outkast’s Big Boi and their videos have become hip-hoppy in their nature with all the moves, the darkness and the glitter and what have you. Not to be seen as some kind of superfan, I did actually catch them on their recent tour of the UK at Bristol’s Thekla; you can read about that
here. In fact, now I come to think of it, this second
Phantogram album can be summed up in the way that the majority of their videos can. Glitzy, moody but sadly not really all that interesting. A bit samey. Sarah Barthel jiggles her way around the screen, occasionally looking moodily at the camera whilst bestie and bandmate Josh Carter pushes buttons, rotates on a plinth whilst strumming a guitar and occasionally looks moodily
away from the camera. See what they did there? It would be fine if they did it just the once but it’s pretty much
every time. The album starts off in a pretty average way. “Do you ever have the feeling that you’ve constantly been dreaming – this is life”, asks Barthel and I agree insofar that it just sounds like I’ve heard this song before and the sense of déjà vu is off the scale. I let out an audible groan when I first heard that opening line – very ‘shoegaze-by-numbers’ don’t you think? With the previous album (2009’s ‘Eyelid Movies’) and all of the EPs and singles that have come between then and now, Phantogram’s sound has heavily relied on the sharp contrast between a full-fat bass sound and Barthel’s soft, fragile vocal. They make a much more interesting noise than most other bands trying this sort of thing in search of chart glory but that’s not really setting the bar too high. On occasion though, it really does work. Second track ‘Black Out Days’ hints at something a little bit different. Barthel has recorded several vocal tracks for this one and they are used to good effect as backing riffs and really help the song along as there’s plenty to listen out for. Things are improving then? Very much so, because next song up ‘Fall In Love’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year and a good chance one of the best you’ll hear too. Whether it’s the slightly off-kilter riff or the clever use of the manipulated sampled backing vocals that do it, it’s up to you to find out. I would say it’s probably due to the fact that Barthel’s voice doesn’t seem as if it’s going to break down on this one; she’s actually singing it like she means it. But then, oh no. Oh no no no. They’ve given the mic to Josh. Remember what it was like when they let Ringo do a song on various Beatles albums? Well imagine that, and then multiply the horror ten-fold. It’s not just that he doesn’t have the most interesting of voices, but the song itself (“Not Going Home” – inexplicably the longest in the set) is middle of the road at best; it sounds like Phil Collins learning the synthesiser. There’s your hit and miss right there.  And that’s pretty much how this album goes for its entire duration.  It’s harmless enough, and there are more good songs than bad, but there are just too far few
interesting songs. With the exception of the aforementioned ‘Fall In Love’, this could quite happily be played in the background at a BBQ or other small social gathering of your choice. It’s a shame as there was so much promise in the intervening EPs (‘Don’t Move’ and ‘When I’m Small’ have been particular favourites for a few years) but one can only hope that we don’t have to wait until 2019 for the next batch and that when they arrive they pack a hell of a lot more of a punch than this.
Rating: 6 out of 10