Until The Ribbon Breaks, Weeknight
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Can a band working in relative isolation craft music that resonates with listeners around the world? Can that band and its music evolve and connect with an ever-widening audience without sacrificing quality or compromising integrity?
When the band in question is Phantogram, the answer to both is unequivocally “yes.” And Voices provides indisputable proof.
The New York duo’s second full-length album catches the ear quickly, melding hazy dream pop, dark atmospheres, and head-knocking rhythms into a compelling, original sound. Opener “Nothing But Trouble” contrasts waves of distortion with Sarah Barthel’s beguiling soprano, underpinned by Josh Carter’s gritty urban beats. Moments later, the staccato vocal hook and layered rhythms of “Black Out Days” drive the listener deep into a fever dream of echo and atmospherics. But do not confuse immediacy with instant gratification. The impact of Phantogram’s songs intensifies over time.
Since 2007, the Phantogram sound has evolved gradually and organically, and the band’s career has mirrored that progress. Formed in Saratoga Springs, a small city in upstate New York, longtime friends Carter and Barthel crafted music untroubled by outside interference. With each new release and national tour since 2009 debut Eyelid Movies (Barsuk), their sound has progressed—and so has their popularity. Yet Voices makes no concessions to commercialism. From inception to execution, Phantogram’s second album stays true to the aesthetic that has won them a wide, disparate fan base.
The making of Voices hewed closer to its predecessors than the band first intended. Although now based in Brooklyn, they retreated to familiar turf to minimize distractions. “We tried writing in Los Angeles, we tried writing in New York City, but we had to head back to upstate New York to get some peace and quiet,” says Barthel. Only after the initial songwriting was completed did they decamp to LA, where Carter would team up with co-producer John Hill (M.I.A., Santigold) to record and put the finishing touches on the band’s sophomore album.
Lead single “Fall In Love” emphasizes its sly hooks via contrasting dynamics, with quiet snippets of synthesized strings and isolated vocal passages sprinkled amidst pulsating bass tones and Psycho-worthy orchestral stabs. Bluesy, vapor trail guitar lines and a rhythmic buzzing reminiscent of a mad scientist’s laboratory impart the sublime “Bill Murray” with an eerie balance of contemplation and disquiet.
Although hip-hop is a key influence on their music, the division of labor in Phantogram doesn’t neatly split into clear cut old school roles of DJ and MC. The two members share creative responsibilities. Carter sings lead on two new tunes (“Never Going Home” and the percussive “I Don’t Blame You”) and Barthel assumed a bigger role in production on Voices. Sometimes they write together in the same room, at others they split up; immediate proximity isn’t a prerequisite after years of collaboration.
“We’re able to work separately from one another and accomplish the same goal,” explains Carter. An idea hatched on piano or guitar by one band member may then be passed on to the other for further refinement. “If we’re stumped on something specific, we’re able to swap the material we’re working on,” adds Sarah. “That’s a really cool process, because one of us will think of an idea the other might not have.”
Whereas their previous work was largely studio-based, this time the live experience factored into the composition, too. Phantogram has toured incessantly since the release of Eyelid Movies, headlining larger and larger sold-out shows at clubs and theaters and delivering knockout performances at festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Treasure Island. “Touring led the way to what the music on Voices would sound like,” says Barthel. “It helped us expand and discover new sounds and dynamics that we wanted to incorporate.”
In addition to the new sonic discoveries, all those shows have proved integral to Phantogram’s gradual, but steady, rise in acclaim. “A huge part of our audience comes from playing live and touring,” says Carter. “Being able to go from playing a crowd of five people to 50, then 500 or even 5,000 has marked our progress and shown us the value of working hard, while challenging us to still make our music unique.”
Discipline and innovation have won Phantogram admiration from well-seasoned peers. Acclaimed music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas (The Twilight Saga, Gossip Girl) solicited an exclusive track (“Lights”) for the soundtrack of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The duo joined forces with the Flaming Lips for “You Lust,” a thirteen-minute epic showcased on the Oklahoma combo’s 2013 album The Terror. “It seems crazy that artists that we admire want to create music with us,” admits Carter. “That is huge compliment to us and all our hard work.”
Meanwhile, working with Big Boi on three tracks for his 2012 solo album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors did more than just broaden Phantogram’s listening audience. The Outkast veteran also dispensed sage advice as they graduated to a larger record label and bigger crowds. “The conversations with him gave us composure and confidence,” says Barthel. “He told us not to worry and stay true to what we were already doing.” Lend an ear to Voices and it is clear Phantogram took that advice to heart.
Until The Ribbon Breaks
Remember the days when gifting mixtapes was the definitive romantic gesture? That careful ritual of combing through your record collection, choosing a myriad of musical moods and memories for the recipient to imbibe and devour again and again, until the tape wore out – Until The Ribbon Breaks.
Having just wrapped up their first North American tour supporting Lorde, UTRB, the three piece band fronted by Cardiff native, Peter Lawrie Winfield recall how as youngsters you would “give a girl or a friend a mixtape to let them know what music you loved. It didn’t matter if one song was De La Soul and the next was R.E.M. It was about the feeling the entire collection conveyed.”
Drawing both their approach and name from their art form, Until The Ribbon Breaks (UTRB) are a uniquely skilled, singing, songwriting, producing collective recently signed to Universal Republic Records.
Decidedly honest, their music embraces an old-school passion for intricate, clever writing and the slicing together of sounds, samples and lyrics; a skill demonstrated in debut track ‘Pressure’ and the accompanied self-made video which they released on YouTube earlier this year.
The powerful EP, ‘A Taste Of Silver,’ which followed, treated listeners’ ears to something compelling and unique. Mesmeric, dark apocalyptic pop, meets infectious “Avant RnB” in a way that is both haunting and beautiful in its raw confrontation of human emotion.
Boldly and without trepidation, the music tells tales of love, loss, lust, infatuation, regret and fear all enveloped in cinematic imagery, which could sit comfortably within the poignant scenes of any Spike Lee, Tarantino or Scorsese film.
The filmic element to their work comes as no surprise from a band whose lead originally studied film and has always maintained that music and film inform both each other, and the production process.
To craft their debut EP, the boys buried themselves in a hidden studio space armed with just a film projector, a microphone, a drum machine, and a piano and went about marrying their two chief loves. As the art forms began to merge, the outcome was a magnetic, provocative, self-made video for every track.
Peter recalls how he would “project films on the wall while [he] was working.” “I’d shut the sound off, watch the movies, and make music to them. It was everything from David Lynch to Terrence Malick. The mood usurped the narrative and the visuals and music became entwined.”
This year, as well as working on their own upcoming album, UTRB have caused frenzy amongst the blogosphere with remixes or “reimaginations” for The Weeknd’s ‘Wicked Games,’ Sam Smith’s ‘Nirvana,’ Lorde’s ‘Royals,’ and a feature on EL-P and Killer Mike’s new album ‘Run The Jewels.’
Moreover this year their work has gripped the attention of the likes of NPR, the BBC and other major players including rave reviews from Pitchfork, Spin, Pigeons and Planes, Jay Z’s Life + Times and Fader but to name a few.
Having just finished a 5-date sell out tour with Phantogram across the US, UTRB are back in the studio working on their debut album due for release in 2014.
"Comprised of New York based duo known simply as Holly and Andy, Weeknight create the sort of languid, obfuscous pop that swirls slightly menacingly through your eardrums. The interlocking male-female vocals contain both beauty and enigmatic characteristics, whether it be the bass heavy Devil or the glitchy Dark Light (Warrior), the crackling guitar lines and other-worldly lyrics elevate Weeknight above many of their synth-led contemporaries. Whilst it's clearly lacking big budget production, the Depeche Mode vibes are prominent throughout, as are the loosely scattered shoegaze percussion sections. All in all, this debut EP entitled Dark Dark Lights is an extremely accomplished trio of tracks." - Crack In The Road