PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Phantogram: Eyelid Movies

A New York group that sounds more like California.


Phantogram

Eyelid Movies

US Release: 2010-02-09
UK Release: 2010-01-18
Label: Barsuk
Amazon
iTunes

Apparently the atmospheric indie duo Phantogram hails from Saratoga Springs and records in a barn. I'll take their word for it, but few albums sound as California as their debut, Eyelid Movies. Stealing equally from Portishead, Massive Attack, and Sonic Youth, the record evokes an inviting big-sky sunscape laced with underlying menace, like the state that counts Brian Wilson and Charles Manson as equal icons. The title fits -- these tracks are daydreams that trend uncomfortably towards the nightmarish. They're rich, lovely, and alienating.

A lot of Phantogram's power lies in Sarah Barthel's ravishing vocals, which blend equal measures of syrup and cyanide into a wraith-like Beth Gibbons lilt. Despite a certain icy detachment in tone, her vocals can inhabit a wide variety of moods, from paranoid agitation to sensuous rapture. At her best she's siren-like: appealing, vulnerable, and dangerous -- Little Red Riding Hood with sharp teeth all her own. She baits her hooks against a loosely trippy atmospheric background, and powers the songs with an almost off-handed melodic momentum.

I'd be tempted to callEyelid Moviesa trip-hop album, if it weren't for the fact that trip-hop is now a decade out of fashion and Phantogram sounds so unassailably hip. Josh Carter's immaculate production strips back the adornments and fuzzes things up. The dryly echoing three-note phrase that underpins “When I'm Small” – which so far has my vote for the greatest guitar riff of 2010 – is downtuned so low the pitch wobbles, ominously thunking out the rough-hewn foundation for their danceably dangerous single.

That guitar line exemplifies Carter's M.O. Instrumentally, Phantogram tends to favor thudding, monotonal drones that jerk themselves repeatedly upwards before being sucked immediately back down to the bass line (think the guitar line in the Velvet's "Waiting For My Man") played over repetitive breakbeat drum machine rhythms that pulse, double, drop in and out of the track. On paper it sounds dull, but in practice it's pretty hypnotic, thanks to the easy precision of the arrangements and Barthel's breathy lost-girl vocals. Eyelid Movies is trapped a constant push-and-pull between indulgence and minimalism, between the lush and the hushed. The record is dreamy and immersive, but Carter resists the urge to allow his arrangements to get too zonky or druggy or baroque and the result is an intriguingly spartan psychedelia.

The album starts to show its seams around the edges. Things slow down when Carter sings on his own -- his voice is nothing special, a sort of generically androgynous indie rock mumble. "You Are the Ocean" has a haunting melody and a neurotic synth howling through the background like a car alarm -- it could have been a great track if Barthel were singing. At 11 songs, the record starts to blend together (though for an atmospheric album like this that may not be a bad thing). They tend to find a slicky eerie groove and run it into the ground, which is sometimes hypnotic and sometimes a little bit dull.

But all told, Eyelid Movies does what good albums ought to do: it fabricates a little musical universe, complete with its own weather (cold fog, blistering sun), settings (seedy clubs in the San Fernando Valley, the backseats of black cars), and moods (paranoia, sexual ecstasy, hungover ennui). And by the time you reach the final track, the surprisingly traditional piano ballad “10,000 Claps”, you'll be torn between the desire to linger there and the urge to see what new and uncomfortable places Phantogram might be able to take you.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.