March 6, 2020 Phantogram – Ceremony (Album Review)
On the heels of their 2016’s cinematic-oriented and Trip Hop-infused Three album, Phantogram return with Ceremony on Friday, March 6, 2020 via Republic Records.
The fourth overall studio album for the duo – Josh Carter (vocals, guitars) and Sarah Barthel (vocals, keyboards) – who emerged out Greenwich, New York back in 2007, their is not so easily defined. A mix of Electronic Rock, Dream Pop, Electronica, and the aforementioned Trip Hop, each album they have released offers something different. In fact, whereas their 2010 debut Eyelid Movies struck the attention of many, 2014’s Voices came across as more assertive and bold, while 2016’s Three stood them apart from many of their Synthpop-inspired contemporaries. So what will Ceremony bring?
Consisting of eleven new songs, it all starts with the glittery Dance Pop glamour of “Dear God,” immediately revealing Phantogram’s dance-floor agenda. The neon lights then hypnotically flicker as the previously released “In a Spiral” bursts into splinters of Techno/Synthpop colors. The ensuing single “Into Happiness” then borrows some ’80s New Wave nostalgic flare from the likes of New Order (“Shell Shock”), Pet Shop Boys (“Suburbia”), and Strawberry Switchblade (“Since Yesterday”).
Showing their diversity, Phantogram then launches into space with newest single “Pedestal,” whose machine gun rhythm, pulsating beat, and big synth-bass sound will surely make you float into sonic heaven. As the following “Love Me Now” plays next, Barthel’s sensuous falsetto then beautifully contrasts with the aggressive fuzz of the guitar and symphonic stomps of the bass and the drums. The guitar propensity continues with the dark beauty of “Let Me Down,” and then Phantogram turns trippy and wobbly with the Trip Hop sophistication of “News Today.”
Moving on, the narrative then turns cinematic with the James Bond-worthy, staccato-and-timpani-laden “Mister Impossible.” Carter and Barthel then slow down with the undulating melodrama of “Glowing,” only to lash again their whip with the Electroclash track “Gaunt Kids.” Finally, the duo finishes off Ceremony with the Kraftwerkian Space Pop sensibility of the title-track, as if calling occupants of an interplanetary craft.
Overall, Phantogram’s music remains interesting, familiar and fresh. The breadth of its scope and its volatility are the traits that could keep its listeners’ attention. With its offering for the new decade, Phantogram continues to secure its place in the pantheon of contemporary Synthpop. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Ceremony 4 out of 5 stars.