P H A N TO G R A M HAS LANDED Words by David Liebig Photos by Doron Gild
Trip-hop band Phantogram is bringing its unique sound to SLO Brewing Co. for the first time tonight. The duo, comprised of Sarah Barthel on the keyboard and Joshua Carter on guitar, is touring in support of their 2010 Barsuk Records debut, “Eyelid Movies.” Other bands signed to Barsuk Records include Death Cab for Cutie, Ra Ra Riot and Rilo Kiley. Phantogram meshes electronic samples and acoustic instruments to make the characteristic sound found on the band’s record. “Eyelid Movies” primarily features crisp drum loops, dreamlike vocal effects and string instruments with Barthel and Carter alternating as vocalists. The album has carried the band, hailing from Saratoga Springs,
N.Y., to nationwide acclaim, garnering several positive reviews and opening the door to high-profile concert opportunities. Four days ago, Phantogram took the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. Carter said the change of scenery from Coachella to SLO Brewing Co. will not be a letdown for him. “We like playing big venues and small venues,” he said. “It’s been really fun selling out the Independent in San Francisco, playing Coachella. We didn’t expect it, being from where we’re from.” Saratoga Springs is definitely backcountry, Carter said. To write and record “Eyelid Movies,” the band spent time in even more rural upstate New York at a barn on Carter’s parents’
property — a place they have dubbed “Harmony Lodge.” “It’s definitely a little more serene,” Carter said. “There’s not too many distractions.” The pastoral environment is not the only thing influencing their music, Carter said. “If we lived in Hawaii, I don’t think we’d sound like Jack Johnson,” he said. “When we made the album, we just made music we would want to hear. You should do it for yourself to begin with.” Even though Carter said he’s not trying to impress anybody in his music career, indie fans are finding and liking Phantogram’s music on blogs and other online venues. Aerospace engineering ju-
nior Dave Nguyen said he was impressed when he first heard Phantogram on a mixtape he downloaded from a private forum. “I really like the juxtaposition of a really electronic sound with the sweet, natural voice,” Nguyen said. For some bands, a popular debut does not ensure longterm success, but Nguyen said Phantogram will remain a presence in the indie music scene. “Their popularity has just been increasing ever since I heard about them,” he said. With a new EP coming out this year and another album set for release in 2012, Carter said he has high hopes for the future. One factor contributing to
“If we lived in Hawaii, I don’t think we’d sound like Jack Johnson. When we made the album, we just made music we would want to hear. You should do it for yourself to begin with.” the band’s success is a diverse fan base, Carter said. The music contains elements that appeal to fans of hip-hop, shoegaze and pop music alike. “We don’t follow any specific trends,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be the ‘in’ sound, but I don’t think our sound is too out there.” Music junior Tommy Nickerson said he finds the band’s willingness to be different intriguing. “Their unique vocals offer an angle on this kind of music that is unheard of, and that fact alone proves that this is a quality band,” Nickerson said. “Bringing new ideas to the table is not only a rare characteristic of new bands in alter-
native rock but inspiring to the listener.” Carter said he is excited to give his San Luis Obispo fans a live performance. “Expect to hear loud music that’s pulsating and droning and fun,” he said. Tim Oakley, from The Mathematicians, will be joining Barthel and Carter on drums tonight. For those who miss the show, Phantogram will be featured on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” tonight at midnight. Doors for the show open at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $14 at the door or $12 in advance at Ticketweb.com and Boo Boo Records.
The Second Coming of a Lost Medium Words and Photos by David Liebig
Records aren’t practical. They’re large and fragile, and the turntables that play them call for delicate precision. Furthermore, it seems more people are pirating music than paying for it these days, and at times even recently pressed records can bruise a bank statement. So why did vinyl records — a technology pronounced dead decades past — see growth as an industry this year? Some might simply credit hipster trends and their un-
checked ability to make anything suddenly cool. Others could call it nostalgia, claiming records are a vestige of those picturesque decades that had our parents wearing flowers in their hair. I, for one, believe the plastic discs are seeing a second coming because they are, in some ways, better than iPods. I started collecting records last year. I have upgraded my turntable and added dozens of titles to my collection since
then, and there are several reasons why I don’t see the intrigue of this hobby petering out any time soon. First of all, they are beautiful. The cover art of an album is much easier to appreciate at 12 by 12 inches, as opposed to shrunken .jpg’s on a backlit screen. The record sleeves alone are works of art, and having such a large image to associate with a set of songs gives the album added character.
Over time, the cover art comes to sing the songs in its own way, as if the music has been embedded in the colors and shapes. As for the actual playback, songs cannot be skipped or rearranged. When listening to a vinyl, one has no choice but to receive the album exactly how the artist intended. Songs on records flow in a deliberate order that is lost by using a “shuffle” feature.
It might seem monotonous to be greeted by the same tracks in the same order whenever a certain album is played, but the arrangement becomes familiar, like the sequence of a favorite movie. The course of the tracks can suggest a story, whether fully intended by the artist or not. The aforementioned delicacy required to play a record is also cause for intrigue. After carefully positioning the disc on a turntable (making sure not to touch the grooves), setting the brittle, almost microscopic needle and adjusting your dance moves to a less skip-inducing romp, you have invested in the preparation of the listening experience â€” far more than the effort required to twitch a finger on a play button. This makes me want to fully engage in the listening process, feasting on the lyrics and melodies. Audiophiles also often argue that vinyls simply sound better. The sanitized clarity of digital recording sometimes unattractively isolates instruments.
The warmth of records, physically read by the needle, blends all the instruments and vocals. It has been said that records sound more like live music than their digital counterparts. I think this is because of the audio soup that turntables produce, offering a far more organic reproduction of the sounds. Records are not the most economical or convenient form of media, but they preserve the romantic identity of music that has been lost by the universal accessibility and over-indulgence of the mp3. When an album is downloaded for free, it is disposable. A purchased, tangible compilation, however, has value, which in turn augments the value of its music. Though still niche, the appeal of vinyl records in the digital age is spreading. Records themselves have a tendency to wear out and lose quality after repeated use. Only time will tell if the life span of this trend is so fleeting.
Record sales grew by 50 percent in 2011, following a 14 percent increase in 2010.