By: The Busted Amp Staff
By: Derek Jung
By: The Busted Amp Staff
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: After over a year of recording and touring with Outkast's Big Boi under the name Big Grams, including the release of their fabulous self-titled debut, the duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel are back at the helms of Phantogram for their third full length, aptly named Three. Much of the songwriting for this album was done while Barthel was grieving the loss of her older sister. Understandably, the album is dark in many places, and tries to convey some of the heaviest, most honest emotions they've ever attempted. While the album starts off strong, the latter two-thirds drops off sharply and creates an uneven, hit and miss listening experience.
Lead single "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" is a banger. Deep, brooding synths, a punchy drum beat, and Barthel's vocals combine to be one of the group's best songs yet. But this isn't even the highlight of the album for me. That designation goes to "Same Old Blues", which opens with an Afro-hip hop beat and a clapping backtrack before cutting to Barthel's isolated vocal. The chorus is a beautiful "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." The real surprise comes after the second chorus, when the biggest drop on the album hits and goes straight into a mini guitar solo breakdown. It's a song that's executed perfectly from start to finish.
"Cruel World" features samples remind me of the Light half of John Frusciante's "Dark/Light", but this song is all darkness. Barthel declares "goodbye to my good side" in this cruel world. Unfortunately, after this, many attempts at being emotionally vulnerable hit flat. "Barking Dog", my least favorite song on the album, features Carter on lead vocals. I'd argue that the dog is barking to drown out his terrible vocal performance, which is reminiscent to when Iain Cook takes the lead for CHVRCHES.
I'm of the opinion that this album could have been cut into a four or five track EP like 2011's Nightlife that would have been a much better listening experience. This ten song LP where half of the songs are forgettable at best and mediocre at worst. I'm not joking. I'd buy an EP with tracks one through four on it. The entirety of Three? Not so much.
JOSEPH: Another standard pop album. While most of these tracks are certainly dance-worthy thanks to decent instrumentation from Josh Carter, Three is depressingly underwhelming. Sarah Barthel's vocals aren't really anything to write home about, but they are still interesting in some songs, particular opener "Funeral Pyre." While I had little idea what she was saying for most of this song thanks to the mix, I did enjoy what her vocals were doing from an instrumental standpoint. "Funeral Pyre" led into what I felt was by FAR the strongest track on the album, (and possibly one of my favorite songs of 2016 so far) "Same Old Blues." This song is highlighted by one of the sexiest drops I've heard in a long time during the guitar solo. There is little doubt that I will be listening to this song for a long time, and thanks to its dance-friendly beat I will definitely lead with it at any parties I'm invited to. Assuming I'm actually invited to any parties.
The following track, "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" pales in comparison to the two opening tracks. It's actually one of the weaker songs on the album, in my opinion, (and it looks like I'm in the minority on this one) and starts the slow overall downward spiral that is the rest of Three. By "Answer," I was bored, and by track closer "Calling All" I was begging for it to end. The only track that stood out at all to me was "Destroyer," but even it was a pretty standard pop ballad. I just happened to enjoy the chorus on this track. Though that may have been because I was looking for anything to enjoy by that point.
At the end of the day, what I would recommend doing with Three is listen to the first three songs on the track. No, really. The first three tracks of this album are the only three tracks worth listening to on this album. I was so excited for the potential of this album at the end of "Same Old Blues." But after this sexy track Three just turned into another very standard and safe pop album. A swing and a miss.
My number: 4/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Derek: In 2010, I read about an up-and-coming neo-soul band on my favorite music website at the time, Antiquiet, and their debut album Pickin' Up The Pieces soon became one of my favorite albums of the year. Their blend of throwback soul with modern pop aesthetics was refreshing, and the obvious Motown influences were enough to sound familiar, yet not enough to be a complete rip of the decades-old soul sound. A few years later, the band's sophomore release More Than Just a Dream departed from much of the throwback sound in favor of a more pop forward, singles focused record, and their resulting commercial success signaled a new, reinvented chapter for Fitz & the Tantrums. The one constant between the two eras was the captivating and energetic live shows, which I had the pleasure of seeing twice, once in each album cycle. While I was happy to see the band gain more fans and continue putting on great shows, I was apprehensive of where their sound was heading. My worst fears were realized on this album.
The transformation of Fitz & the Tantrums from a neo-soul band into a generic, soulless pop band has been completed. Michael Fitzpatrick, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, has created such a grotesque monster of an album that I fear nothing can save the band that I once knew and loved. Whereas their debut had beautifully written songs about heartbreak and loss, this album has lyrics like "It's complicated / When we get naked / But I can take it / (I love to hate it babe; I can't say no)". The music isn't much better. Just as the lyrics are dumbed down on this album, so has the music, which features forgettable dance beats, terrible synths, and a complete lack of depth outside of a few admittedly catchy hooks sprinkled throughout the 36-minute runtime. I have to wonder why Noelle Scaggs continues to take the backseat in the group; she has been featured less and less as a vocalist despite her obvious talent. At this point is she really anything other than a hypewoman telling the crowd to "put their hands up" during their live sets? She certainly doesn't contribute anything of note on this album outside of one bridge on "Complicated".
There's no doubt that the singles on this album like "Handclap" will see airplay on both radio and TV, but this is nothing more than a shallow, poorly produced, poorly written pop album.
Joseph: A lot of times when a band drops a pop-heavy album, I will enjoy it far more than Derek does. Fitz's sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream, was a textbook example of this: I was ok with Fitz & the Tantrums having more pop influences than neo-soul on their album. After all, "The Walker" had one of my favorite hooks of 2013, so there's no doubt these guys have the ability to blend the two genres together. Buuuuuuuuuut we will agree on this pile of crap.
What are you doing Michael Fitzpatrick? I really want to think that he's just trying to express himself creatively, but my cynical side is screaming sellout. And I just might have to let my cynical side win out here, because I KNOW Fitz & the Tantrums have more talent than this. I think that's what really gets me here and why I'm right down in the gutters on this travesty with Derek: I know these guys can do better. Even from a pop perspective this album lacks hooks on almost every song besides "Handclap" and "Burn it Down." Noelle Scaggs has nothing to do here, and can take the title of "Most talented musician completely wasted" to this point this year, and AGAIN my cynical side comes up at this point because part of me thinks she has nothing to do only because Michael Fitzpatrick knows she's a FAR better singer than he is, so he wants to limit her role as much as possible. I hope that's not true but dear Lord I can't shake that thought out of my head.
Ultimately, this album is a disaster. I can only hope that at this point Fitz and the Tantrums attempt to bring their fans back to their neo-soul side with a "triumphant return to their roots" or something, but with Michael Fitzpatrick seemingly settling into his newfound love of the electronic genre with a recent (and very lackluster) collaboration with Cash Cash, I'm not holding my breath. As it stands this may be the most disappointing fall for a group that I have ever seen.
By: Derek Jung
Imagine a scene from a typical 80's movie, with opening credits over a red convertible driving through the desert at night , faint lights of a city flickering in the distance. The driver, dressed in a leather jacket, puffs on a cigarette and smirks as the camera pans out and the location becomes clear. This is Las Vegas, and the driver knows that he's in for a hell of a night. This was the image that swirled around my mind during the seductive opener to the album, "Vegas". Shamir, moniker of singer-songwriter Shamir Bailey, softly sings "We're sinners alright, at least at night" in his distinctively high-pitched voice. He may be young, but since Las Vegas is his hometown, he's experienced much of what Sin City has to offer and projects this sensuality throughout Ratchet. "Vegas" is our silence before the storm.
Shamir's dance-pop roots, while not as apparent on "Vegas", come in full view on the next three tracks, "Make A Scene", "On The Regular", and "Call It Off". These songs are meant for the dance floor, and Shamir is in prime form on these songs. With deep, robotic and catchy beat, "Make a Scene" encourages us to do just that, before launching into an amazingly danceable synth beat break. "On The Regular" showcases his rapping, stating defiantly that "Haters get the bird, more like an eagle./This is my movie, stay tuned for the sequel". I love the clinking cowbell that surrounds this track and the house beat that drives this single. It helps the song through powerful movements and ups the intensity of the lyricism of the raps, which is fluid but never really varies in tone. This is easily one of the catchiest songs of the year so far, and it was an easy choice in my Best of 2015 So Far list. The next track, "Call It Off", is a break-up song, but one that is excited to be free to party again. Shamir exclaims that he "just can't make a THOT a wife/No more basic ratchet guys" before belting out a disco-esque refrain of "It's time...to call it off".
These three songs, each one clocking in at less than 3 minutes, are definitely the highlight of the album, and if you're looking for the remaining 6 songs to be dance anthems like these singles, you're in for a disappointing listen. Yes, they have similar dance beats and catchy refrains, but they come no where near where the above three songs reach. "Demon" is a swing and a miss of a pop song, sounding like something your standard radio pop star would try to do, in a bad way, despite being pretty deep and vulnerable lyrically. "Darker" is a beautiful ballad that really highlights Shamir's vocals and showcases the vulnerability that was missed on "Demon". If this is what he sounds like toned down and soulful, I want to hear more.
Overall, this is a pretty solid full length debut that pushes the dance-pop vibe into new territory, flashes brilliance, and never lacks the flamboyant confidence or in-your-face attitude that we've come to know from Shamir. I think it's safe to say that the phrase "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" does not apply for Shamir; he's destined for bigger things...on his own terms.
My Number: 7/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.