In Brief: The electronic rock/trip-hop duo’s fourth album is a bit of a potpourri, to the point where it doesn’t quite radiate the strong sense of musical identity heard on previous albums Voices and Three. There’s always been more to Phantogram than big, booty-shaking hooks, of course – and we still get a few choice bangers here. But Ceremony seems more concerned with the quirkier, trippier, and dreamier side of the Phantogram sound. I’m on board for most of it, even if there are stretches where my attention wanders.
To say that this month didn’t go as planned would be a massive understatement. At the beginning of the month, I was gearing up for a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, which is where I figured I’d be when writing this column. Then the Coronavirus happened – or rather, America finally got serious about defending itself against it, and most of us went into a prolonged period of self-isolation. The upside is that I’ve had even more time than usual to binge on music while working from home (and I’m fortunate to have a job that lends itself well to telecommuting). The downside is that, try as I might to be objective, some otherwise good music released during this season is going to be forever entwined with the memories of being stuck at home and praying to God that none of my family members or loved ones get sick. Maybe I’ll be able to turn that around and come out remembering some of this as the music that helped keep me company and lift my spirits during an intense and difficult part of my life? Only time will tell.
Here are my first impressions of the latest from Phantogram, SHEL, Alex Wong, Hayley Williams, Leigh Nash, Cindy Morgan, Holden Days, Collective Soul, Peter Bjorn and John, Mandy Moore, Matt Wertz, Jason Wade, Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams, Pearl Jam, Elbow, and Sleeping at Last.
As always, I wanted to give a mention to the music I enjoyed this year that didn’t fit the traditional “album” format, or else that was released in 2016 and I didn’t catch up to it until this year. Either way, none of it’s eligible for my Top 20 list, but all of it is definitely worth checking out if anything I have to say here piques your interest.
It’s that time of year again where I run through the list of songs that inspired me, entertained me, or just plain got stuck in my head for amusing reasons, more than any other songs in the last 12 months. Most of these were released in 2017. Some came out in 2016 and I either didn’t hear them until this year or didn’t come to fully appreciate them in time for last year’s list. I’ve given brief explanations and YouTube links for the Top 30. For the rest… just check the reviews where they’re linked, if you’re curious.
And as always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2017 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Artist: Phantogram Album: Three Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: A remarkably solid electronica album with a bit of a trip-hop twist that strikes a deft balance between immediate pop hooks and sonic experimentation. If not for the embarrassing misstep at the end, this could easily be an A-grade record.