When electronic rock duo Phantogram began drawing national attention with their 2009 debut album, “Eyelid Movies,” they already had a knack for matching trip-hop beats with memorable melodies and the juxtaposition of Sarah Barthel’s soft vocals and Josh Carter’s matter-of-fact delivery.
It was post-shoegaze dream pop – chillwave before the term existed.
With each EP or full-length since, the group has grown more confident, more soulful and more pop.
Barthel once hid beneath the shadow of perfectly straight black bangs with she and Carter shrouded by low lighting and billowy smoke on stage. During the tour that followed the successful release of Big Grams, the duo’s 2015 collaboration with Big Boi from Outkast, Barthel emerged as a full-fledged sex symbol photographed in bondage-inspired hot pants and midriff bearing halters. She, Josh and her morkie Leroy (a maltese/Yorkshire terrier with his own Instagram account) appeared in “Playboy” – fully clothed, but it was obvious they were growing more comfortable as not just performers, but entertainers.
Now backed by keyboardist/guitarist Nicholas Shelestak and drummer Chris Carhart, the band makes its way back to The Fillmore Saturday for a co-headlining tour with electronic producer Tycho, less than a year after it last played the venue (in October 2016).
“It’s a natural evolution,” says Carter, calling from the Ottawa Bluesfest last week.
“It was organic. We started touring as a two-piece in a car. We played for maybe five people a night. Eventually we added more members and now our live show has evolved into something more rocking and dynamic and more visual, but it’s all just been a natural process.”
Phantogram was putting on a killer show touring its last album “Voices,” but the group looks as if it’s had fun coming out of its shell with its latest album “Three” – despite recording it shortly after Barthel’s sister Becky’s suicide. They’ve since become involved with the American Association for Suicide Prevention and with friend Miley Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation, aimed at reaching kids with mental illness and depression.
“What happened shaped the way the whole album turned out,” says Carter, who admits that revisiting the songs every night can be hard. “We have to revisit that. It’s cathartic... Having that outlet is a good thing that a lot of people don’t get to have.”
“Three” finds Phantogram at its most daring: Carter incorporating burping synthesizers and gospel samples into tracks that range from experimental to poppy.
“If I’m sampling something like the gospel thing in ‘Same Old Blues,’ that helps shape where I want to take the music,” he explains.
Carter’s eager to get to work on another album, but the band’s tour schedule seems endless, with only a short break between Big Grams and the release of “Three.”
“More and more, I’m getting the itch to make a new record,” he says. “We’ve been on the road quite a bit. Even other bands say we tour a lot.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.