Phantogram finds sunnier beats, same dark themes on new album

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Phantogram's third full-length album, the pragmatically titledThree, charts an evolving, pulsating sonic course fueled by sunshine. But the underlying lyrical content explores the band's traditionally dark themes.

"I don't think Josh [Carter] and I really gravitate towards writing songs about happy days, sunshine, life is awesome, I love my girlfriend," said Phantogram vocalist Sarah Barthel during a phone interview on a recent tour stop in Oakland. "We just kind of have always gravitated towards writing about the darker side of things. It's cathartic. It's therapeutic. It's what makes me want to write a song."

That's evident in the lead single from the album, "You Don't Get Me High Anymore," where Barthel intones, "Walk with me to the end/ Stare with me into the abyss/ Do you feel like letting go?/ I wonder how far down it is" atop an urgent beat by Carter that can only be described as a banger.

A few things led to this evolving sound. Three marks the first time the electronica band has recorded away from its traditional upstate New York space, swapping an isolated barn "in the middle of nowhere" for Los Angeles. "I think we were ready for a different scene and a different energy," Barthel said. "I think that has a lot to do with the outcome as well. It's nice to have sunshine and be happy."

Another subconscious effect on the sound of Phantogram's new album may be what the pair did between this and the release of 2014'sVoices: It launched Big Grams, a collaboration with rapper Big Boi of Outkast. The trio released a killer self-titled EP and a performed on a slew of festival dates over the past year.

"It was our first collaboration ever, and that kind of opened some [creative] doors for us," said Barthel. She says there won't be any Big Grams songs making the setlist on the current Phantogram tour, but Big Grams will return in the future.

WhenThree received its official release, half of the album's 10 tracks had already been available to stream online, a fact that Barthel attributes to changing attention spans. "Who really sits down and listens to full-length records?" Barthel said. "And it's weird to hear that come out of my mouth because I hate that."

Still, the band's intent is to go for the full-album experience. Barthel saidThree was meant for that sit-down vinyl experience. "It flows together beautifully. It's 10 songs for a reason. We [wanted] the record to be short so people would want to play it again after it was done," Barthel said. "It's all killer, no filler."

The two-piece has been together more than a decade now, and its Tuesday stop at Express Live continues a long history with Columbus that includes two early dates at what was then The Treehouse (now Tree Bar), and another in 2011 at the now-defunct Outland Live.

Still, Barthel and Carter, who grew up together as friends in upstate New York, have maintained a symbiotic friendship that has spanned their musical evolution. "We already knew that we loved each other. The upside of it all is that we make really great music and we have the same vision," Barthel said. "We call ourselves psychic twins ... because we have the same ideas happening."

Express Live

7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18

405 Neil Ave., Arena District

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