Phantogram – Ceremony (Album Review)

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.

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aLfie vera mella
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Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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