“Wake up” are the first words uttered on Saratoga Springs, NY duo Phantogram’s debut long player Eyelid Movies. The album’s title refers to the spots and shapes one can sometimes see dancing across their eyelids, and it’s an apt name for a record whose musical identity comes in all different shapes and sizes. From the hip-hop loops and grungy, Dust Brothers-style synths of “Running from the Cops,” to the new wave balladry of “All Dried Up,” and the trip-hop cool of “You Are the Ocean,” these are kinds of left-of-center pop tunes that, in the mid-‘90s, could have sneaked their way onto Top 40 and modern-rock playlists (which were basically the same thing back then).
But Phantogram isn’t solely stuck in a late-20th-century reverie. “As Far as I Can see,” a la something by the Avalanches, rides a smooth groove of stuttering beats and vocals and features a collage of samples, and the duo imbues their daydream-pop with a very-noughty sense of beat experimentation. The squelchy synths and guitars of opening track “Mouthful of Diamonds” are augmented with what sounds like the incessant squawking of a mechanical bird, which is interestingly echoed by singer Sarah Barthel on the following track.
Barthel splits vocal duties throughout the album with partner Josh Carter, whose problems as a singer (namely, his issues with pitch, though that’s remedied with heaps of filters that give the impression that he’s singing underwater on “Running from the Cops”) become even more noticeable when the pair shares the recording booth on “Bloody Palms.” Carter would be better off staying behind the boards and letting his female counterpart, who sounds like a mix between Karen O and Tanya Donelly on the standout “When I’m Small,” man the mic. Fortunately, Eyelid Movies ends with two more Barthel-led tracks, including album closer “10,000 Claps,” which is—for lack of a better way to put it—simply dreamy.