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Big Grams EP

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.

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