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Come Away in the Dark December 23, 2010

Posted by monty in music.
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And now, #5 in my grab-bag of Favorite 2010 Albums:

Phantogram – Eyelid Movies

Although in the past I’ve obsessively ranked and ordered my year-end lists, part of me has always resisted it.  It seems somehow silly to objectively rank something as subjective as one’s response to art, whether it be books, movies, or music.  That’s one reason why A) I’m presenting this year-end collection of music in no particular order, and B) I’ve purposely named it “Favorite” music, as opposed to “Best.”  I currently own 444 full-length albums released in 2010.  To think I could even hope to name one as “Best” is, well, stupid.

That’s just a long way of getting to Phantogram’s unbelievable debut, Eyelid Movies. Because if I were ranking my favorite albums (and I’m not), this one would be settled firmly at #2, right behind The National’s High Violet. It’s rare that an album that hews pretty closely to the electronic genre finds its way to the top of my list, but Phantogram sidesteps the boring ol’ thud-thud-thud-squeak school of dance music to make something that, to my unschooled ears at least, sounds pretty unique.

A duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, Phantogram makes something that sort of sounds like Portishead crossed with My Bloody Valentine (which, yeah, are sort of lazy reference points, but there you have it), but way funkier than either of them.  And it’s appropriate that the album be titled Eyelid Movies, because each of the 11 songs here sounds like it could soundtrack the coolest Steven Soderbergh movie ever.  And maybe that’s a better reference point for those who would get it.  Some of the songs here – “Running from the Cops,” with its propulsive beat, garbled spoken-word vocals, and angelic hook and “You Are the Ocean’s” chiming guitars and downbeat electronic melody, especially – remind me a lot of David Holmes’ unsung 2000 dynamo, Bow Down to the Exit Sign. Their music is gritty and moody, but there are also moments of transcendent beauty, such as in the skyscraping chorus of “You Are the Ocean.”

And, like Holmes’ work, Phantogram’s music defies easy categorization. Barthel’s vocals are by turns delicate and dominating, and her keyboards and Carter’s guitars mesh in unexpected and surprising ways.  It’s dance music for people who like guitars, Low-Life-era New Order, and psychedelia. And, although this strays somewhat from the spirit of choosing favorite albums, the band is ferocious in a live setting.  I saw them a couple months ago in Atlanta, and it was easily one of my favorite shows of the year (and Sarah and Josh were kind enough to sign for me the last copy of vinyl they had at the merch table).  There’s just not a weak spot on the album, and if someone forced me to choose my favorite song of the year, “Mouthful of Diamonds” would get the nod.  This is a remarkable album by any standard, but it’s even more impressive to remember that Eyelid Movies is their debut. Seriously great things await this band.

I know I’ve posted at least one of these songs elsewhere on the site, but these are two of my favorite songs from the album (although I literally could have chosen any of them).  The first is the video for the aforementioned “Mouthful of Diamonds,” the second is a live version of “Running from the Cops” (which just gave me goosebumps as I watched it.  Ridiculous).


Current listening:

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – History of Modern (2010)



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