Phantogram’s music sounds like it’s made by 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 live and work in a major urban center, but rather calls the town of Saratoga Springs, NY (population 26,186) home. Despite the cultural influence of local Skidmore College (where fellow beat-experimenters Ratatat formed) and a relatively small scene of adventurous musicians and listeners, Saratoga isn’t exactly teeming with fans 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 metropolitan influences to meld together creating beautiful, beat-driven dreamlike pop songs.
The band even references dreams when describing both the lyrics and sonics of 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 explains further: “Daydreams, the spots you see moving around when your eyes are closed tight, and the shapes you see in the world – those are the kinds of things we want to surface in your mind when you hear 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.