Greenwich, New York natives Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter started the dream pop duo Phantogram in 2007. Earlier this month, Phantogram dropped their third and latest album, aptly named “Three.”
After signing with label after label from 2007 to 2010, Phantogram finally found a place at Republic Records in September 2013 alongside artists such as Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd and Drake. There they released their second and third studio albums establishing their place as the festival-ready, pop power duo on Republic’s roster.
“Three” features ten fresh tracks with the single “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” leading the album onto national charts. However this album arrives with a bittersweet beginning. This past January, lead vocalist Sarah Barthel’s older sister took her own life, a tragedy that loomed over the production of their third album.
A unique experimentation with sound that pushes the boundaries of pop, “Three” begins the musical journey with “Funeral Pyre,” a slow-progressing song that perfectly lays the groundwork for the tracks to come. Blending pop-rock and electronic beats with Barthel’s glossy alto vocals, a sense of mystery and suspense is created as ears turn to the next track.
“Same Old Blues,” the album’s second track is an upbeat, pop-rock anthem in the guise of electronic blues and perfectly introduces the lead single of the album, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” This track is reminiscent of the teenage angst tones of a pop-punk hit mixed with a shadowy rhythm, making any fan of Paramore circa 2007, proud.
The next track, “Cruel World,” starts smooth and simple. A piano riff matches with Barthel’s soft-sung simplistic lyrics to introduce an unrelenting dark synth beat that ties the whole song together.
The following song, “Barking Dog,” builds suspense from the very beginning, luring listeners in with vulnerable lyrics and Josh Carter’s vocal debut. The song concludes with a poignant emotional tone, as the ever suspenseful rhythm ceases and Carter’s vocals are laid bare.
“You’re Mine,” the sixth track on the album and perhaps the soul-sister to the dark pop beats of “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore,” seems almost like an homage to The White Stripes sharp rock verses but then follows with a smooth chorus. Carter and Barthel split the vocals on this track, however the latter highlights the chorus with the flare of her brilliant vocal runs.
The most deep-cut and personal track on the album, “Answer” is largely a tribute to Barthel’s passed sister.
“My sister passed away,” Barthel said to Women’s Wear Daily, “My only sister passed from suicide. She was also one of Josh’s best friends... we thought [David] Bowie was bad and then that happened. And Prince passed. One of the lines I think I’m most proud of, lyric-wise, is in the song called ‘Answer.’ It’s basically, ‘All my heroes are gone, but I know they’re out there.’”
“Answer” truly delivers an unidentifiable sense of tear-jerking nostalgia. Every bit of loss Barthel felt was poured into this track.
The next track, “Run Run Blood” reveals more about the mourning process. It paints a fiery and angry image in listeners’ heads with a heavy yet unsettling rhythm.
The final two tracks, “Destroyer” and “Calling All” are an epic call-to-action, not only to listeners but to the duo themselves. After feeling dark and angry in “Run Run Blood,” Barthel has begun the process of recovery in “Destroyer” with lyrics that almost seem to apologize for her previous lashings out. “Calling All” has a strong dance beat and unites listeners by championing the message to keep moving forward, while learning from past mistakes.
Overall, Phantogram’s “Three” is a fresh and almost cinematic take on an emotional journey.