True to their namesake, electronic and self-proclaimed “street beat” duo Phantogram’s latest EP is at its best when the pair embrace their penchant for layered complexity. Interlaced with vintage samples and drum machines, glossed over by gorgeously dark swells of synths, Nightlife is the brief follow-up to last year’s Eyelid Movies.
One of the best aspects of Nightlife is Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel’s ability to manipulate the record’s paranoid undertones into a diverse collection of tracks. The New York duo has directed a good chunk of their talent into crafting the backdrops for their wispy vocals that, instead of dominating the EP, serve as a highlight to its production.
Nightlife leads with “16 Years,” a surprisingly upbeat opener that, while pleasant enough, feels restrained. A few minutes in, Carter and Barthel are at their best on “Turning into Stone.” Delivering a subversive, dominating beat that slowly expands into a dark collection of samples, the track bounces between a much softer duet and a jumble of haunting keys. Surprisingly, although much of the EP’s success lies in its detailed nature, on “Nightlife” the pair proves that they can also step away from the complexity. The title track features Barthel’s vocals as the focus and delivers a poignantly beautiful song.
Unfortunately, Nightlife is a bit short, cramming the pair’s diverse and ambitious arrangements into a six-track EP when the record would perhaps deliver a more cohesive sound if given more room to grow. But regardless of its time constraints, Nightlife is a winding collection of Phantogram’s best efforts, full of the seductively complex sound that has become their signature.