February 24, 2014

"Nothing But Trouble" by Phantogram

I tell you what, it has been a hot minute (read: a long time) since I last posted, and it's a real shame that I return to the blogging scene to review this song. We're basically two months into 2014 and iTunes has yet to really impress me. I could crack a joke about the free singles being nothing but trouble, but that would just be too easy, wouldn't it?

Before I rip into this song, a bit about the artists responsible. Phantogram is a two person outfit from New York state. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter have been working together since 2007 and produced their first full album in 2009. The release of this single, "Nothing But Trouble", heralds their second album, Voices, released last week. They've toured with some pretty prestigious names in indie pop: Metric, Minus The Bear, Ra Ra Riot, and The Glitch Mob to name a few.

I don't care to flatter them with any further description, so we'll dive right into the song.

The song begins, and with it my apathy. A slow-rising electric guitar whine - very original. This leads into some nasty sounding electronic chords. This is a preface for Sarah's voice, which does this song few favors. Her pitch is good, and her low range is quite pretty, but when she uses her high range through the verses, Sarah's voice comes across as airy and insubstantial. We sit through two cycles of verse-chorus before Josh livens things up with a drum and bass breakdown and what is possibly the worst guitar solo I've ever heard. Typically an instrumental solo is used to either inspire the listener or as a pure show of skill; Josh starts shredding and it sounds like a trash compactor. And then the song ends.

What? That's it? Verses of gibberish lyrics - "eating my shotgun smiles, I am nothing, I see nothing but double" - trashy electronica keyboard work and electric guitar and then... it's over? No thank you.

Sarah and John describe Phantogram's sound as "street beat, psych pop". That is not a genre. I have no idea what this song is about. I don't know how it's supposed to make me feel. After listening to it over and over again, I find myself bobbing my head to the catchy drum beat - one of its few redeeming qualities - and then the song ends and I'm left with a feeling of discomfort. So if I don't feel good (or bad) when I listen to this song, when might I play it? 

It's not catchy enough to sing along to, so you won't hear it in my car or in my shower. It's not active enough to play at a party or to dance to, but the electronica sounds and the drum beat are too active to listen to it before bed or as "chill" music. It's not fast enough to exercise or run to. So the only time to listen to this song is to review it and say that it sucks.This is what I call "indie trash": it only makes sense to the artists, and its only real purpose is to be performed by themselves for themselves.

Now, Phantogram has some other songs worth listening to. "Fall In Love" is the rising single off of the Voices album - lyrics about love and a catchy hook worth listening to. Hell, it might end up on the radio. I also liked "Bill Murray" (yes, that's a song title), a beautiful, questioning track about loneliness. Phantogram is capable, despite my harsh words, but "Nothing But Trouble" is their chosen free single and the first song on their new album. As an introduction to "street beat, psych pop", it's a bad first impression, and an even worse representation of their work.

Now, if you want a free song worth listening to, the secondary free single of the week, Boa Noite by Karol Conka is a Latin Rap track that just won't quit. I have no idea what they're saying, but I sure do like it. I'll probably do a review of some of the great stuff I've found on NoiseTrade.com in the next couple weeks, because that site has become my new bastion of hope in a sea of iTunes indie garbage. 

But I digress! For Phantogram's lackluster featured single, I give...

2 out of 5

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