It’s tricky to read intention into the vagaries of production technique, but if the mixes on Phantogram’s “Voices,” the second album from the New York duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carte, are any indication, they’ve become more comfortable asserting their personalities in the seven years since they formed. Unlike their breakout “Eyelid Movies” in 2010, the vocals here are pushed to the fore, mostly unobscured by effects. This is still a heavily produced effort, with songs like “Black Out Days” draped in enough ambience to make a Foley artist jealous. But the vocals, Barthel’s in particular, slice through the squelching bass synths, strings samples, guitar soloing, and electronic beats. On “Fall in Love,” a powerfully-sung number, it pulls aside the veil on the machine to introduce the human at the song’s heart. There’s nothing as immediately grabbing here as the irresistible “When I’m Small” from “Eyelid,” and dancefloor imperatives are in lesser supply, but it’s a deficit made up for by deceptively sanguine, slowly evolving tracks like “Bill Murray,” which borrows some of the actor’s sage knowingness for its tenor. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Black Out Days”
Luke O’Neil can be reached at email@example.com.