Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem, and such is the case for Phantogram. The Saratoga Springs-born duo often gets lumped into the ever-growing list of down tempo-inspired, female-fronted indie-rock combos. (Think The xx, Little Dragon, School of Seven Bells.) But Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, who fittingly pull their band’s name from an optical illusion, don’t quite fit the bill. On their 2010 debut, Eyelid Movies, the pair subtly injects elements of trip-hop, glam rock, and woozy post-party fuzziness to every slinky guitar line and sexy vocal tone they put forth. This is music to get down to, but lacks the self-serious intensity of many of Phantogram’s contemporaries, making Eyelid Movies easily one of the best late-night dance-party records of the past few years.
For Nightlife, Phantogram’s soon-to-be-released mini-album, the band’s signature pulse continues beating strong. The synths are sparse and otherworldly; the beats are fat and multilayered; and Barthel’s vocals are an intoxicating mix of strong and seductive, calling to mind both Sade and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O.
“They’re very similar and not at the same time,” Barthel said of the two albums. “I think it’s obvious that our sound is evolving and growing, and we wanted to make sure we had that connection with Eyelid Movies. But we also feel like [Nightlife] is a little bit heavier, a little bit more emotional, a little bit darker.”
Like any good sophomore release, Nightlife pulls inspiration from the band’s whirlwind year of life in the spotlight. The songs were written “in hotel rooms and over sound checks” and tend to feel most at home after dark, when they evoke long nighttime drives or clubs after last call. And nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s title track: “Nightlife” finds the band scaling back the bass and treble and giving Barthel plenty of space to belt out heartbreakers like “Make a pretty face and say I’m fine/I’m okay only in the nighttime” alongside Carter’s plinking guitars.
Upbeat and danceable as it is, Nightlife is vested in the struggles that come along with living on the road, a lifestyle that Barthel still hasn’t quite adjusted to. “I think you learn as you go,” she explains. “It’s a really hard transition to be able to go through, and I think I say that for every band and every musician that is lucky enough to tour. It takes work to come back and adjust to such a difference of living at home versus on the road …. I’m currently in the process of trying to figure it out.”
This Thursday, November 3, the Phantogram team pulls into yet another club to work their magic — this time S.B.’s own SOhO. The date also doubles as the official kickoff night for this year’s New Noise Music Festival and Conference, a two-day, three-night melee of music biz workshops, lectures, and panel discussions, and after dark, some seriously killer live shows. With that in mind, I couldn’t help but ask Barthel to dispense some wisdom on what she thinks it takes to make it in the music industry.
“It sounds so cheesy and I hate saying it, but just believe in your music. Thinking outside of the box and working your ass off is just as important — it’s the most important. If you don’t do that then you can’t take yourself seriously enough, and I think that’s crucial. You can’t just sit around and wait for something to happen; you really have to get out there, because there are billions of bands these days — it’s unbelievable competition.”
Phantogram plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) with openers Reptar this Thursday, November 3, at 8 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.