Phantogram: Dark, but not sad

06/23/2014 12:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:00 PM

On the single “Fall in Love” from its new album “Voices,” the New York duo Phantogram places a classic R&B vocal melody, a funky subtle bass line and fuzzy synth against a swirling wall of space-age sound.

That track sounds like the future of R&B. But Phantogram, which assisted on Big Boi’s last album, isn’t R&B. The electronic-based, dark indie-rock duo is what ethereal ’80s/’90s Scottish alt-rock band Cocteau Twins might sound like if they’d been raised on hip-hop. What’s more, Phantogram weaves these disparate influences seamlessly.

“If it was obvious, it would sound unnatural and unorganic,” says vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Barthel, calling from a tour stop in Vermont Thursday. Phantogram makes its Charlotte debut at The Fillmore Wednesday.

Delivering beats with heart and soul is paying off for Barthel and partner Josh Carter, who first bonded over music in junior high.

“Voices” reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200. Its tracks have been featured on The CW’s “The Originals,” Showtime’s “Shameless” and NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; in the film “Pitch Perfect” and on the movie soundtrack for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”; and in Gillette and Canon commercials.

Earlier this week it sold out Terminal 5 in New York after returning from a recent European tour. Australia and Lollapalooza are next.

Expect its show in Charlotte to seduce both aurally and visually.

“Other than the music, it’s the most important part,” Barthel says of the visual aspect, which not only informs the band’s light-heavy live shows but its songwriting as well.

“It goes hand in hand. We’re very involved with the videos and the live visuals.”

Barthel and Carter let visual aspects help guide the songs during the writing process.

“It goes along the lines of the sounds or the emotions we’re feeling,” says Barthel, who studied visual art. “We see different scenarios, colors and images in our heads that dictate that emotion.”

“ ‘Howling at the Moon’ is called that because (that song) feels like you’re in Texas in the desert, the sun is setting, the coyotes are all around, chasing you,” she says. “It’s desperate and lonely. We have these film scenarios and movies that we come up with in our heads.”

Although they write dark, dreamy music and wear lots of black, Barthel says they aren’t sad people.

“We relate to the darker aspects of art,” she says.

“It is a part of Phantogram to have our songs emotional. There is nothing worse to me than listening to a song and not feeling something. There needs to be that connection. ... We weren’t necessarily thinking we want to be a dark, sad band. That’s not what we are.

“The things we write about are darker, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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