Overflowing with bombastic choruses, powerful basslines and a persistent synth, Phantogram’s new album Three takes them far from their trip-hop beginnings and instead offers a choppy selection of nearly-psychedelic songs, including several festival-ready anthems.
Fans expected Three to combine the electro-rock beginnings of the band’s first two studio albums with their recent mainstream collaborations into a magnum opus. Instead of clearly defining their sound, they produced a sonically beautiful, but emotionally inconsistent album. Here, they’ve appeared to abandon their rap influences in favor of a sleek electronic sound peppered with grimy beats.
“It’s bigger than life, it’s bigger than love, it’s bigger than us,” chants vocalist Sarah Barthel in the chorus of their thunderous “Run Run Blood.” The longest track on the album at close to five minutes, the song is a high tempo adrenaline rush that you would expect to be played in a nightclub on the TV show “Skins.” The song’s lyrics reflect what Phantogram was trying to do with this album, but they ended up juggling too many different sounds.
Albums generally reflect the emotional state of the musicians creating it, and Barthel puts a sad watermark on Three from her sister’s death earlier in the year. The album kicks off with the mostly instrumental “Funeral Pyre,” a fittingly dark and angry song that wails to the sky. “Answer” is a nostalgic, desperate ballad that begs to be played through the grainy speakers of a thrift store turntable. One song later, “Destroyer” starts with a minute-long whispering of guitar strings before suddenly cranking it up to 11 with an anthemic booming until it ends with the somber lyrics “I’m all alone.”
From this sadness stems the dichotomy of the album; spliced between these sorrowful songs are upbeat, club-ready bangers. Both “Answer” and “Destroyer” are nostalgic, somewhat slow songs, but “Run Run Blood” is eclectic and “Calling All” tells listeners that “We all got a little bit of hoe in us” while imploring them to dance and shake. These whimsical changes in themes make Three seem like a collection of superb but disjointed singles. Listeners may be turned off by the broad range of emotions they feel upon listening.
The album’s lead single “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” is a refreshing tour de force of a song. With a deep, solemn bassline and a unique chorus, the single showcases Phantogram’s technical prowess at the mixing boards and proves they’ve learned how to make earworm songs that burrow into listener’s minds. Fittingly, the single exposes Three’s one uniting instrumentation across all songs: the jarring synthesizer. While the song has actual lyrics, the star of the show undoubtedly is the bass-heavy synth melody that dominates the chorus. Already creeping up the charts, the radio-friendly single is more of a synth-along than a sing-along, flourishing with a delicious hook and impeccable melody.
On Three, Phantogram offers 10 instantly enjoyable songs that show just how polished they’ve made their brand of electronic music. Clearly showing their hip-hop influences, each song is excellent in its own right, but the album as a whole doesn’t feel like a painting or completed work of art. Instead, it feels more like a palette that had its colors swirled together.