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
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