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Phantogram sounds like a band from the city. Electronic loops, hip-hop beats, shoegaze, soul, pop – each finds its way into their songs. Unexpectedly, the band doesn’t hail from a metropolis, but rather calls the town of Saratoga Springs, NY (population 26,186) home. Most people there, other than maybe some students at local Skidmore College (where fellow beat-experimenters Ratatat formed), have never heard of J. Dilla, My Bloody Valentine, or Serge Gainsbourg.
But Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the duo that make up Phantogram and who grew up in the even smaller nearby municipality of Greenwich, have flourished in Saratoga. In fact, the town itself isn’t rural enough for their taste – they drive almost every day another 45 minutes into upstate farmland to a barn they call Harmony Lodge to write and record. Serving as their homemade studio/practice space/think-tank/bat-cave, the barn is equipped with various samplers, tapes, records, synths, drums, and both percussive and stringed instruments, and it’s there that Phantogram allows their natural surroundings and urban influences to meld together creating some beautiful, beat-driven dreamlike pop songs.
Indeed, both sonically and lyrically, the band references dreams to describe their own music and the process of making it: “We ran across a description of dreams somewhere that used the phrase ‘eyelid movies’ – and it really struck us both as something that fit our music,” notes Barthel, while Carter adds: “Daydreams, the spots you see moving around when your eyes are closed tight, and even the shapes you see in the world all surface when you feel your way through a Phantogram song.”
Hard to say from song to song whether the dreams are entirely pleasant or nightmarish (there tends to be a bleak undercurrent of loneliness and isolation in much of the band’s work, counter-balanced by bright moments of swagger and joy), but this music – is certainly vivid and exciting - springing as it does from an unpredictable mix of technological and organic roots.