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Big Grams

Phantogram Amps up in Search of New Highs on 'Three'

Music ReviewWeston PaganoComment

Following their genre-bending collaboration with Big Boi last year, Phantogram’s next direction was always going to be an expansive and confident one. With Sarah Barthel’s dynamic, sultry vocals now commanding more widespread attention and Josh Carter’s glitchy backdrops earning larger stages, the dream pop trip hop duo found themselves on a deserved platform for growth. In enlisting mainstreamers from Ricky Reed’s (Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor) glossy production to Semisonic’s Dan Wilson (Adele, Taylor Swift) co-writing credit, Phantogram’s transition from Barsuk indies to Republic pride became increasingly clear. 

On their aptly-named third record, Three, tracks like opener “Funeral Pyre” and plaintive lines including, “I keep on having this dream / Where I'm stuck in a hole and I can't get out / There's always something that's pulling me down, down, down,” carry extra weight in the context of the abrupt passing of Barthel’s sister, who was also a close friend of Carter, during the album’s creation. Through this lens Phantogram touches truly sobering depths, wondering, "Walk with me to the end / Stare with me into the abyss / Do you feel like letting go? / I wonder how far down it is."

But “Same Old Blues” quickly shows for all the morbidity they mustn’t succumb to moroseness in sound, peaking in a powerful gospel-turned-electronica punch with blistering guitar. Flagship single "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" next has Barthel's breathless vocals dancing over Carter's massive, fuzzed-out bass synth bombs at a frenetic pace. “Used to take one / Now it takes four / You don’t get me high anymore,” she cries, and indeed the track is a bold embodiment of the band’s restless climb. Maturing from a humble indie outfit from upstate New York into big league #FestivalKillers rubbing shoulders with Miley Cyrus and rap legends, the duo continues to push themselves to the brink as a louder, flashier, and more sexualized act at every turn.

Featuring a drum machine sonic collage reminiscent of "Don't Move," the sharp standout “Cruel World” seems primed for car commercial levels of ubiquity, but, complete with the nice, subtle touch of the warm fuzz of a vinyl spin we first heard on "When I'm Small," it’s one we wouldn't mind hearing around for some time. With its scattered string samples and equally scattered ramblings, “Barking Dog” is a welcome return to the oft overshadowed strengths of Carter’s increasingly rare lead tracks, but doesn’t quite cut to the same emotional depth as, say, “I Don’t Blame You.”

Urban influences showing through, “You’re Mine”’s electrifying rhythm isn’t unlike - dare I say it - Future’s “Jumpman,” and would feel right at home with Big Boi spitting a verse or two. “Run Run Blood” then features the brass creep of horns contributed by The Antlers’ Darby Cicci, the surprising highlight of a mix that has Phantogram at their most brooding in years. “Destroyer,” in turn, is a vessel for showcasing Barthel’s skyrocketing vocal range.

Hitting the notes required for both dancefloor movability and indie playlist inclusion, Three’s wild sonic and emotional swings can seem jarring. You’d be forgiven for wondering how you got from the initial feelings of loss to the sensual slink of carefree sex anthem “Calling All” in only half an hour, though that transition was long in motion since Big Grams was born. It’s in these ways Phantogram’s third installment sometimes reads less like an album and more like a collection of singles looking to package the eclectic angles of their human condition into different shots at exuberant accessibility, yet each shift arguably feels as natural as the last. Indulging in the instant gratification of radio-ready drops over the more stable, steady charm of classics like “Mouthful of Diamonds,” Three is at times moody and unhinged, but undeniably succeeds at what the duo seems to have set out to do.

Three reveals a Phantogram veering ever closer to the sun in terms of stadium-filling riffs and diamond-polished edges - Carter’s beard and black-rimmed glasses are long gone in favor of basketball jerseys and gold chains, while Barthel has evolved into a full-blown blonde bombshell - but strip it all alway and there’s still enough of their unique charm amidst the beats and bravado for now. What next emerges from the pyre of Three, though, is anyone’s guess.

Transverso's Guide to Lollapalooza 2016

Music ListTransverso MediaComment

Longtime staple of both the Chicago and music festival experiences, each year Lollapalooza earns their reputation as one of the premiere menageries the performance industry can offer. Lolla, as the kids call it, needs no introduction at all, in fact, but we’ve written one anyway to justify our staff compiling such a lengthy list of recommendations (and condemnations) for this year’s edition. So if you’re still building your schedule, torn between conflicts, or just don’t know much about the bands that’ll be there, this is the guide for you!


Pinegrove (Petrillo Bandshell 12:15-1:00)

So you didn’t want to go to Lollapalooza. It’s too big, too loud, and way too crowded, but your friends talked you into buying a ticket and now you’re at a goddamn music festival at noon on a goddamn Thursday. New Jersey punks Pinegrove feel your pain. On their incredible new album Cardinal, singer-guitarist Evan Stephens Hall crafts antisocial anthems that thread the line between emo and country, alchemizing unease and isolation into universally relatable howl-alongs. (Standout single “New Friends” is a rousing power ballad about deciding to have more than three acquaintances.) Pinegrove specialize in songs that sound great screamed in a giant crowd or whispered alone in your room, and their festival-opening slot offers you a rare chance to choose the former over the latter.  (Julian Axelrod)

Autolux (Samsung 12:45-1:30) 

Coming off a delightfully peculiar and long-awaited return on Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records with Pussy’s Dead, Autolux are uniquely melancholic in a captivating way. Despite their relatively under-the-radar history, you may know founding member and multi-instrumentalist Carla Azar as one of Jack White’s main studio and touring drummers. (Weston Pagano)

Lucy Dacus (BMI Stage 1:00-1:40)

Seeing a festival set based on one song is a risky proposition, but early Thursday afternoon is a prime time for experimentation, and when the song is as good as Lucy Dacus’s “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” it’s not much of a risk. The track is a deft, subtle breakdown of the ways women are pigeonholed into types – the Funny Girl, the Cute Girl, the Groupie. It’ll have you laughing as you cringe with recognition, a trick Dacus pulls throughout her strong debut No Burden. The record recalls sarcastic storytellers like Jenny Lewis and Courtney Barnett, but comparing Dacus to other women does her a disservice. Don’t come to this show to see a Type – come to see Lucy Dacus kick ass. (Julian Axelrod)

Hiatus Kaiyote (Petrillo Bandshell 2:00-3:00)

The Melbourne-sprung Hiatus Kaiyote lead off early in the festival, and is a standout performer among its peers. This is a must see act, particularly anyone trying to bend their knees and swing their hips. Coming off a salutary reprise of "Laputa” in collaboration with Taylor McFerrin and Anderson Paak in April, the psychedelic soul outfit is in top form. Lolla is the first stop on their lengthy North American tour, so they should be full authentic giddiness and energy. Whether you’re trippin’ hard on something good and need a deep groove or atmospheric musings to set your mind right, want to get down’n dirty with some dance moves, or just want to vibe with a beer in hand, Hiatus has got you covered. (Andrew Meriwether) 

Yeasayer (Lakeshore 3:30-4:30)

Despite their latest LP being named Amen & Goodbye (arguably one of the best and most under-appreciated records of 2016), Yeasayer will be saying hello to Chicago for the third time in as many months when they ascend the Lakeshore Stage on Thursday. Not that we could get tired of seeing them, though, as the psychedelic freak-folk rock electro-pop trio wear many hats and wear them exceedingly well. Don’t miss their aftershow-that’s-really-a-preshow on Wednesday, as their sound always conveys better indoors and their impeccably intriguing performance decorations that play with the Sgt. Peppers-esque album art direction motif will likely not make it onstage at the festival itself. (Weston Pagano)

Wild Child (BMI 4:30-5:10)

I first saw Wild Child after we interviewed them at SXSW. It was in a small church downtown in their native Austin, and every time the band swore - in a song or otherwise - they semi-jokingly cringed and asked “Can we say that in here?” They’re the cutest folk outfit, but now they can say whatever the fuck they want out in Grant Park as well. (Weston Pagano)

The Arcs (Lakeshore 7:30-8:30)

Once you listened to a couple Black Keys records, you’ve pretty much listened to them all, right? So why go see Dan Auerbach, the lead vocalist and guitarist of BK, when you’ve got the plenty of other artists who could punch your eardrums? Because The Arcs, Auerbach’s most recent solo project, are not a blues rock band, and because they kick a lot of ass. On 2015's very well received Yours, Dreamily, Auerbach delves into the psychedelic and macabre both musically and lyrically; a refreshing departure from his past productions. His time behind boards as a producer has also broadened his sound beyond riff-a-licious jams to include horns, synths, and a dizzying collage of other fantastic instrumentation. Fit this veteran into your evening schedule - you won’t be disappointed. (Andrew Meriwether) 

Lana Del Rey (Budlight 8:45-10:00)

Do people really still like Lana Del Rey? (Weston Pagano)


Lewis Del Mar (Bud Light 12:45-1:45)

After surfing with MGMT convinced them to sign to Columbia, Lewis Del Mar burst onto the scene with a confident "Can you please sit the fuck down?" We assume they'll be asking - and getting - the opposite this Friday. (Weston Pagano)

Joey Purp (Perry’s 2:30-3:15)

There is a truly astounding amount of incredible rap coming out of Chicago right now, and the city’s vital scene is well represented on the Lolla lineup, from perpetually rising star Vic Mensa to Rick Rubin disciple Towkio. Joey Purp may not have the same recognition as his comrades at the fest (yet) but he’s making the most interesting music. His mixtape iiiDrops crackles with inspiration as Purp recounts his violent upbringing and with a dead-eyed mumble, somehow sounding sleepy and urgent simultaneously. And the man has an incredible ear for beats, from the throwback Neptunes funk of “Girls @” (with Chance the Rapper) to the dying elephant bounce of “Photobooth.” Whether you’re a Chicago native or a first-time visitor, don’t miss this preview of the city’s next big star. (Julian Axelrod)

Foals (Samsung 4:00-5:00)

Still on the road a year out from their fourth LP What Went Down, Foals bring one of the most aggressively exhilarating indie rock sets to the festival stage. The youthful hints of mathiness in their set have been all but drowned out in favor of their more mature, denser sound of late, but you won’t be able to analyze much of anything with Yannis Philippakis shredding guitar whilst splayed out on top of you. Look for “Inhaler” to turn the droves of calmly-swaying-white-guys into an animalistic frenzy as cries of “I can’t get enough SPAAACE” go from purely metaphorical to literal, too. (Weston Pagano)

Sunflower Bean (BMI 6:50-7:30)

Sunflower Bean finds themselves in the unfortunate predicament of being surrounded by heavy reputations: Future, Miike Snow, and M83 are all set to perform in neighboring time slots. But for the rock fan whose feelings on grunge-rock are more fond than ill, Sunflower Bean may be the band to see. Their post-punk is fast and aggressive and guitarist Nick Kivlen is a true virtuoso on the axe. If you’re swayed more by advocacy, the Brooklyn-based band stands opposed to the plethora of shoegaze that the New York borough’s music scene has been producing. So if you’re in the mood for aggressive guitars or feel like protesting the shoegaze genre, check out Sunflower Bean.  (Ezra Carpenter)

Miike Snow (Lakeshore 7:00-8:00)

Those of you who still don’t know Miike Snow probably are familiar with Britney Spear's "Toxic" and Bruno Mars' "Grenade," the world-beating hits the Swedish writers and producers were the masterminds behind. But for the rest of us, it's been a few years of waiting for them to tour again like they are now in support of their latest record, iii. After their hiatus the first few shows were noticeably rusty at times (frontman Andrew Wyatt nearly killed a girl with a mic stand when I saw them at SXSW in March), but they’ve almost certainly gelled back to their delightful old ways since then. Either way, their uniquely engaging brand of perfect pop that blends professional polish with indie edge make this a set you should see. (Weston Pagano)

M83 (Samsung Stage 6:00-7:00) 

Friends, family and fellow 2011 nostalgists: We are here today not to bury M83, but to praise them. (Or rather, him.) While many people populate the stage at an M83 show (including Dallas musician Kaela Sinclair, who joined the touring band after an open call for keyboardists) the project is the brainchild of Anthony Gonzalez. The French pop mastermind was thrust into the mainstream on the heels of hit single “Midnight City,” which you might know on the off chance you’ve seen a movie, TV show, or commercial in the past 5 years. This year’s follow-up album Junk seemed at first like a decisive (and divisive) left turn away from the epic, windswept pop anthems that cemented M83’s place atop festival lineups, filled with overtly cheesy synth struts and melodramatic strings that evoke the elevator music in an overpriced '80s hotel. But like a weird foreign soap opera you find on cable at 3 AM and end up watching until sunrise, Junk is packed with peculiar pleasures. Give yourself up to Gonzalez’s vision of a pop utopia – it is a world unlike any other.  (Julian Axelrod)

Radiohead (Samsung Stage 8:00-10:00)

No introduction needed for this Friday headliner, but the release of LP9 and the reintroduction of “Creep” to the band’s set has reinvigorated fan curiosity and interest. Firstly, Radiohead has consistently played A Moon Shaped Pool true to its tracklist until its fifth track: “Ful Stop.” The front end of the album has been well-received for its stoic and somber tone, so expect to get very intimate with the band from an early onset. Now onto the issue of “Creep.” We get it, the majority most probably despises the reinclusion of the band’s 1993 single. However, this majority is also likely comprised of fans who have followed Radiohead’s progression since the release of 1993’s Pablo Honey. So to the younger Radiohead fan: this may be one of the few times you will ever hear “Creep” performed live if you haven’t experienced it already. However one may feel about the song, it is undoubtedly a privilege to hear it performed live. EDM fans will be split between Martin Garrix and Major Lazer, so the Radiohead crowd should consist of a homogeneous set of genuine Radiohead fans. (Ezra Carpenter)


AudioDamn! (BMI 1:00-1:45)

Fresh-faced and endearing, the up-and-coming German trio told Transverso all about their debut EP and subsequent first American tour in our interview not too long ago. Expect a playful show in which their clean suits do little to betray solid rock and roll chops. (Weston Pagano)

Big Grams (Samsung 4:15-5:15)

Though starting out as an unexpected pairing, the Big Boi + Phantogram supergroup have become staples of this year’s festival circuit following their self-titled debut, and we’re excited to see these #FestivalKillers supply their #JediRapShit at Lolla this year. Also look for Phantogram’s aftershow at House of Blues on Sunday which will be their first of many dates in support of their forthcoming record, Three - whether or not Big Boi will appear in that as well remains to be seen. (Weston Pagano)

Leon Bridges (Bud Light 4:45-5:45)

Saturday night offers a wide selection for those looking for vanguard of foundational genres. Whether it’s country’s golden boy Chris Stapleton, The Band-channeling Houndmouth, or the foot-stomping Nathaniel Ratcliff and the Night Sweats, one can easily get their fill of the horns, tube amps, and Rhodes organs. Carrying the mantel for classic Soul is Leon Bridges, whose career has skyrocketed since releasing a couple of tracks on SoundCloud two years ago. Bridges seems to be the walking definition of vintage. Everything from his tucked white t-shirts in high waisted jeans to the analogue tinged sound of his records is something out of another era, or perhaps a hyper real version of an era. You may not get anything “new” per se from this performance, as he essentially stays in the safety of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding type tracks. Nonetheless, Bridges ability spark that comforting feeling of nostalgia will undoubtedly delight audiences. So give yourself a break and go enjoy some smooth crooning. (Andrew Meriwether) 

Chris Stapleton (Petrillo Bandshell 5:45-6:45)

The country act - still quite the anomaly for well-established music festivals. Yes, Chris Stapleton is definitely a performance out of left field, yet his popularity is as unquestionable as his vocal talent. Stapleton’s voice is a rustic, molasses-smooth brand of country ballad that will resonate with fans of R&B, soul, blues, and traditional male vocals. He deserves the highest attendance for his allotted time slot (excusing Jane’s Addiction die-hards) and is sure to please anyone who can appreciate a good voice. If you find yourself undecided on who to see early Saturday evening, take a chance on Stapleton. (Ezra Carpenter)

Houndmouth (Pepsi 6:30-7:15)

One could make a strong argument that the market for alt-country bands is oversaturated. Fans may be burnt out on bemoaning lost love and rehashes of blues bar brawls, and genre is a reaching a breaking point and the whole edifice may come crashing down (which, I suppose, may end up being a decent country song). Luckily, one can take solace in a group like Houndmouth. The band is nothing if not earnest, which is hard to come by these days with acts like The Lumineers, whose one-trick-pony folk tunes have spawned a whole litany of saccharin imitators. Houndmouth is steeped in the Music From Big Pink and Basement Tapes rock, and they do about a good a job as anybody at tapping that raw emotional power found in the old masters. On a warm summer evening, on the cusp of rowdiness and love, you won’t find anything much better than Houndmouth. (Andrew Meriwether)

Grimes (Lakeshore 7:30-8:30)

When the Coachella organizers booked Grimes opposite Guns 'n' Roses, they made a clear statement: Give this artist three years (and one more great album) and they’ll be headlining every festival in existence. Listening to last year’s bone-crushingly sweet masterpiece Art Angels, it’s hard not to see Grimes as a global superstar from an alternate dimension who slums it on our planet as a critically acclaimed indie darling. Right now she’s in a weird limbo between the two, so this may be your last chance to see Grimes in any sort of intimate setting before she blows the fuck up. (Julian Axelrod)

Disclosure (Bud Light 8:30-10:00)

A lot of variety to pick from for Saturday’s closing acts: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hardwell, Vic Mensa, and Disclosure. Saturday’s closing action seems to offer something for fans of every genre to appreciate. Not to be underestimated is the hometown boy Vic Mensa’s performance of his new, politically-charged material. But if the headlining RHCP don’t quite pique your interest, Disclosure will surely be the most fun way to spend your time. The release of their latest Moog for Love EP promises a return to their old U.K. garage house style and though their second LP Caracal demonstrated a shift towards more accessible pop music, the transition hasn’t curbed the band’s ability to inspire dance. (Ezra Carpenter)


Låpsley (Samsung 12:45-1:30)

It’s Sunday afternoon and somehow, you’ve found yourself back at the festival at way too early of an hour, still feeling the effects of Saturday night’s drinking. Låpsley may be the cure to your hangover. Coming off Long Way Home, Her atmospheric and minimalist pop/R&B is incredibly easy to listen to and exudes a sensational sort of spatial relaxation - Låpsley’s Sunday afternoon set would be a perfect way to ease yourself into the day.  (Ezra Carpenter)

FIDLAR (Bud Light 2:45-3:45)

This band turned heads when their “Cocaine” music video featured a montage of Nick Offerman public urination, but FIDLAR has more credit owed to them than just their ability to enlist star power in their visuals. For one, FIDLAR will definitely contend for the best moshpit of Lollapalooza. Their fanbase comes together in full energy and enthusiasm for each show. FIDLAR’s set is worth their cover of the Beastie Boy’s “Sabotage” alone. Stop by if you’re in the mood for some rough, high-throttle moshpitting, the Sunday mid-afternoon time slot is pretty slender anyway. (Ezra Carpenter)

Third Eye Blind (Petrillo Bandshell 3:45-4:45)

When I saw Third Eye Blind on the Lolla lineup, I laughed. Don’t get me wrong – I love “Semi-Charmed Life” as much as the next guy. But I couldn’t figure out why the ostensibly one-hit wonders were playing a major festival in 2016. Then the RNC happened. According to, 3EB were scheduled to cover “several pro-America anthems” at a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame charity show during the convention. Instead, the band skipped most of their big hits, railed against the party’s anti-gay policies and quipped, “Who here believes in science?” to glorious boos. In summation: I love Third Eye Blind, “Jumper” is a fucking jam, and if you skip this set you hate America and science and the LGBT community. (Julian Axelrod)

Local Natives (Bud Light 4:45-5:45)

I once saw Local Natives from what felt like a mile away from the stage amidst a sea of melting people in direct sunlight at Bonnaroo. I distinctly remember feeling trapped and wondering if I put on enough sunscreen as it was 100 degrees and the midday sun was mercilessly brutal to our tired bodies. Despite this, it was still one of the most enjoyable sets of the entire festival, as Local Natives' power and poise reached out all the way to where I was, making me forget the pain. They’re thankfully a little later in the day this weekend (4:45), but it’ll still be hot. At least their new album is appropriately named Sunlit Youth. (Weston Pagano)


HAIM (Bud Light 6:45-7:45) 

Transverso recommends boycotting HAIM until they apologize to Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste for abandoning his friendship for Snake-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named(Weston Pagano)

Vince Staples (Pepsi 7:45-8:30)

Stage banter is an underrated art. By the time you hit day four of your 10th music festival of the summer, you’ve lost all patience for the “How’s everybody feelin’ out there?” and “We love you, Chicago!” bullshit you hear at every show. No one understands this better than Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, who has garnered a reputation as the enfant terrible of the festival circuit. The same dark humor and perceptive wit that made last year’s bracing Summertime ’06 an instant classic manifests itself onstage as Staples takes aim at the suffocating corporatization of every fest, like when he told off Spotify at SXSW while performing at a Spotify event. You should see Staples because he’s one of the best rappers out there, but the fact that he’s playing the Pepsi Stage makes this show even more enticing. (Julian Axelrod)

LCD Soundsystem (Samsung 8:25-10:00)

What hasn’t already been said about LCD Soundsystem’s reunion? The dance punk veterans are resurrected and they’re going to perform “Dance Yrself Clean,” and that’s all that matters. It’s worth the entry price alone, but it will also be joined by “I Can Change,” “All My Friends,” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” James Murphy is going to croon and howl and we might cry - there truly isn't a better set to end the festival with. If any Arcade Fire members make cameos we called it first. (Weston Pagano)


The Top 30 Records of 2015

Music ListTransverso MediaComment
2015 year end photo.png

3. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

Thank Your Lucky Stars acts as both an extension of and pivot point for Beach House’s career as a whole. Many may want the band to actively change in a progressive way, but the band chooses to continually broaden their sound in the most familiar and microscopic ways possible instead. Perhaps one of the best integration of all five preceding albums, you hear the metronome, drums are crisper, individual instruments are audible, and Victoria Legrand’s lyrics are unexpectedly discernible at certain points. It's what works for them, and its afforded Beach House the ability to carve out a dream-pop legacy (and avoid becoming a caricature) on their own terms.


2. Majical Cloudz - Are You Alone?

Are You Alone? takes off where the Montreal duo’s preceding Impersonator left off; a paradox of bare-bones, minimalist soundscapes ebbing with lush depth that are somehow simultaneously tranquilizing and uplifting. Welsh’s immaculately vulnerable monologues and unflinching vocals are gently bold, and they drive their synth lullabies forward with severe care. It's Welsh at his most overbearing, and yet his tight grip is irresistible. Calculatedly organic, passionately controlled, it’s a journal reading in a dream.



1. Tame Impala - Currents

Currents is the most adventurous, interesting, and well-produced collection of songs Kevin Parker has created thus far, sitting atop Tame Impala's discography as the most mature and painstakingly crafted iteration in their twisted psych-pop world. From the lush synth tracks that bubble through the mix to his effortless, washed out vocals, every sound is rendered with the utmost care. Currents proves Parker is unable to stick with a certain sound, forever looking for new ways to evolve his ideas and push his project beyond what was expected when Innerspeaker first hit the shelves.


Watch Killer Mike's Fiery Opening for Bernie Sanders' Atlanta Rally

Music NewsWeston PaganoComment

It seems Big Boi is not the only Atlanta rapper chopping it up with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders these days. Run the Jewels' Killer Mike played the role of the politician's dining companion and hype man in the Georgia capital yesterday, leading to chicken at Busy Bee and an opening speech that was, well, straight fire.

The photo of the dynamic duo indulging in some southern soul food is especially intriguing considering Sanders is around six feet tall and is still dwarfed by the rapper.

Killer Mike, who is an aspiring politician himself, cited Sanders' support of the Voting Rights Act and making education and healthcare American rights in his rousing endorsement of the senator which surely left Hotlanta "feeling the Bern."

"I have no time in my short 40 years on this Earth to relive the Reagan years. I have no time... to see us elect our own Margaret Thatcher," he bellowed before concluding, "In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that Senator Bernie Sanders is the right man to lead this country."

It's a little known fact that the Vermonter actually released a folk album available only on tape cassette back in the '80s, which begs the question, will we see a music collaboration next? In the meantime, we have this delightful photo of the pair combining to form the Run the Jewels hand gesture, which will undoubtedly be called a gang sign on Fox News in the morning.

Killer Mike, along with the other half of Run the Jewels, El-P, both featured on fellow ATLien Big Boi's recent Big Grams EP, which you can check out here.

Big Boi and Phantogram Play to Each Other's Strengths on 'Big Grams EP'

Music ReviewJulian AxelrodComment

At this point, collaborations between artists from disparate genres aren’t a new concept. While a rapper remixing an indie band’s hit single used to be cause for confusion or celebration, these days it’s common for, say, Big K.R.I.T. to add a verse to an alt-J single. But these tracks tend to lack a sense of immediacy ­– more often than not, it sounds like the rapper just recorded a verse on the road and emailed it to the band’s manager.

Big Grams – the new collaboration between Atlanta rapper Big Boi of Outkast fame and New York electro-pop duo Phantogram – feels refreshing in comparison. Big Boi discovered Phantogram through a pop-up ad (making Big Grams the most compelling argument against Spotify Premium so far), before the trio tested the waters on three of the standout tracks from Big Boi’s 2012 album Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors.

It’s a testament to the versatility of both artists’ sounds that this new, full collaboration covers several different styles, never content to stay in one lane. Opener “Run for Your Life” features Big Boi maneuvering an anxious, clattering beat that feels nearly claustrophobic until Sarah Barthel’s soothing hook emerges like a sunrise on a dark night. Two tracks later, standout single “Fell In The Sun” lays Phantogram’s signature synths and horn samples over skittering hi-hats to produce a warm, exuberant summer jam that sounds like an ice cream truck riding on hydraulics.

Barthel recently told Rolling Stone, “The main focus of wanting to do this project was to do things that we wouldn't normally do anywhere else,” and the EP’s experimental streak extends to its guests: Rap legend 9th Wonder and dubstep wunderkind Skrillex contribute production to “Put It On Her” and “Drum Machine,” respectively, but these tracks don’t feel out of place alongside Josh Carter’s stylistically omnivorous production. Similarly, “Born to Shine” matches the aggressive energy of guests Run the Jewels while still feeling like a Big Grams song. Big Boi’s verse compliments the tone and theme of “Lights On” without feeling superfluous, while his playful sing-rap conversation with Barthel on “Goldmine Junkie” is one of the record’s most thrilling moments.

Not everything works – there are moments where Barthel’s hooks feel like an afterthought, and Big Boi has a tendency to fall back on familiar subject matter (if you don’t want to hear multiple references to Big Boi’s semen, Big Grams EP might not be for you), but the project succeeds overall because both parties understand each other’s styles and what makes them work, allowing them to play to their strengths while simultaneously exploring new, unexpected directions. Over the course of their debut EP, Big Grams prove that cross-genre collaborations are more than just a gimmick – as long as they’re done right.

Get Your Big Grams Fix With “Goldmine Junkie”

New MusicJulian AxelrodComment

It’s a testament to the powerful chemistry at work in Big Grams that their partnership is still taking on new and interesting forms. While “Fell in the Sun” highlighted Big Boi’s verses and “Lights On” put Phantogram front and center, new single “Goldmine Junkie” is the most collaborative effort we’ve heard from their forthcoming Big Grams EP so far.

The song’s lyrics detail an unhealthy love affair over plaintive piano chords and soaring strings, and while the hook isn’t the strongest in either artist’s catalog, the interplay between Big Boi and Phantogram singer Sarah Barthel brings both vocalists out of their respective comfort zones. Big Boi’s verses boast a melodic dexterity that we rarely hear from him, while Barthel drops an impressive rap interlude that sounds unlike any performance she’s delivered in the past. When the two trade lines on the song’s interlude, it’s a genuinely thrilling moment that feels like the purest realization of Big Grams’ potential.

Big Grams EP is out September 25th via Epic/Republic.

Big Grams Keep The "Lights On" in Second Single

New MusicJulian AxelrodComment

In any partnership, it’s important to know when to take a backseat. And while Atlanta rapper Big Boi is arguably a bigger name than New York electro-pop duo Phantogram, his co-conspirators in the new collaborative project Big Grams, his experience as half of legendary rap duo Outkast has clearly taught him to know when to cede the spotlight. “Lights On,” the second single from the upcoming Big Grams EP, further proves Big Boi’s skill for elevating those around him.

While first single “Fell in the Sun” relegated Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter to hook and beat duty, respectively, “Lights On” is undoubtedly Phantogram’s show. And the duo makes the most of it, delivering a wistful track that captures the intangible longing for companionship that only seems to come around when you’re alone at 3 AM.

Although Big Boi features less prominently in “Lights On” than his partners, he makes the most of his time with a spry verse that touches on subjects ranging from loss to materialism to the adverse effects of Adderall. (Although his pronunciation of “Savannah, Georgia” is the undisputed highlight of the track.) What’s truly impressive is Big Boi’s ability to elevate the track without betraying its emotional impact. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the expert collaborators in Big Grams have written a song about finding someone who completes you.

Big Grams EP is out September 25th via Epic/Republic.

Big Boi + Phantogram Collab Big Grams Fall in the Sun With First Single

Music News, New MusicJulian AxelrodComment

While Atlanta rapper Big Boi and New York electronic duo Phantogram are strong artists in their own right, both seem to thrive on collaboration. After Phantogram contributed three of the standout tracks from Big Boi’s 2012 album Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, the trio has reunited under the Big Grams moniker and announced the Big Grams EP, set to drop later this month. And while the group’s previous collaborations are enough to make this exciting news, first single “Fell In The Sun,” (which premiered on Beats Radio 1) suggests that this team-up has brought out the best in both parties.

The genius of “Fell In The Sun” lies in the interplay between these seemingly disparate artists, as Sarah Barthel’s exuberant hook mingles with Daddy Fat Sax’s playful verses over a warm, crackling beat from Josh Carter that sounds like Big Boi’s “Shine Blockas” playing on warped vinyl. On the bridge Barthel sings, “Dealt this dope from ATL to New York,” but what Big Grams has cooked up might be even more addictive.

Big Grams EP is out September 25th via Epic/Republic