I was pretty surprised when I heard that the electro duo Phantogram was releasing a new EP. I suppose it’s because their last release, 2011’s superb Nightlife, was also an EP, so I’d been hoping that they would be releasing a full-length album in the near future. To that end, I really do not know what their plans are. But I do know one thing — the four songs on this EP are all magnificent.
Keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Barthel sings the first song, “Black Out Days,” a trippy, dark electro-pop number with punchy beats and layers of harmonious background vocals singing things like “hey, ya, ya, ya,” which sounds a lot better when you hear the song than when you read it here, I assure you. “Black out days / I don’t recognize you anymore,” she sings at the very end while subtle but chilling piano plays.
“Never Going Home” is also very trippy, but slightly less dark than “Black Out Days.” “If this is love, I’m never going home,” sings Josh Carter — stealing the microphone from Sarah for a minute or five — during the thunderous chorus, which is like a volcano suddenly going off and blasting lava everywhere after the mellow verses. “Daddy, you point the gun / All this holiday is fun,” Carter croons during one of the verses. His voice is very emotive, but it’s difficult to put your finger on what emotion it is that he’s giving off. The verses are certainly melancholic, but one gets the feeling he’s being sarcastic during the chorus.
“Strange, you didn’t affect me,” Sarah sings coyly just before the chorus during the snappy “The Day You Died,” which reminds me of ballads by Hurts and White Lies. Comparisons aside, it definitely sounds as though the person Sarah becomes during this song regrets not being affected here. “I can’t say goodbye / ’cause I’m feeling nothing,” she sings, her voice sugary sweet but not without a bit of sadness.
Death rears its pretty head during the EP’s final track, a sonorous, stomper of a tune with massive beats called “Celebrating Nothing.” It begins with Sarah lamenting about all of the time she wastes celebrating nothing and blowing it all. That’s just classic alt-music angst and it sounds good on her. But it’s the precious chorus that really gets under your skin — in a good way — as she sings, “Give me a reason to stay alive / I’ve got the feeling we’re gonna die.” It’s a perfectly grunge sentiment that emotes from her sugary voice perfectly, almost with a sense of irony. You’ll find yourself thinking, how can she want to die when she has such a gorgeous voice? But, alas, it’s just a song and I, for one, will buy any lyric she wants to sell me.