ALBUM REVIEW: “Voices” by Phantogram

Things aren’t always as they appear. Take a phantogram for example. By definition, a phantogram is an optical illusion that plays with depth to make a two-dimensional object appear three-dimensional. On their new album Voices, male-female duo Phantogram plays with perspective just the same. Hailing from upstate New York, musicians Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter write and create their music in a barn. Despite their rural surroundings, Phantogram’s sound is an unexpected mix of electronic and rock. At first listen, the duo’s new album may sound like it would merely make for good background music. With a more in-depth listen and attention to detail, however, one can escape this illusion and discover the genius and captivation that is Voices.

The 2014 release is the first full-length the band has put out since 2009’s Eyelid Movies. Despite the five year time gap, the duo has stayed true to their sound. Voices maintains the same atmospheric and mysterious melodies that longtime fans have known and loved, but with more precision and firmer roots. Singer Sarah Barthel’s verses are hauntingly captivating, featuring soaring vocals and impassioned chants. Guitarist Josh Carter also makes vocal appearances on two tracks, titled “Never Going Home,” and “I Don’t Blame You.” The range of the male and female tones brings a refreshing diversity to the chill-inducing sound that is Voices.

“Fall In Love” was the first single Phantogram put out from the new album. The song made waves within a relatively short period of time. In the past, Phantogram has kept in the shadows, only reaching the ears of those driven enough to discover the sounds of the underground. This is no longer the case. Playing sold-out shows, performing in larger venues, and receiving more airtime, Phantogram has earned great exposure since the release of the single. With lyrics such as “The night has swallowed my soul / Could it be that I fell apart / It shows / The lines on my face ate away my smile,” the single is dark and twisted, but nonetheless entrancing. This may very well be the mood for the album as a whole.

“The Day You Died,” the strongest track on the album, showcases the vocal and instrumental abilities of Phantogram at their highest. The lingering “ohhh”s and “ayyy”s of the song combined with the looping guitar rhythms are dangerously catchy. The song radiates with energy and passion that can easily be transmitted on stage during a live performance.

The album slows as “Bill Murray” opens with sweet and melancholic notes reminiscent of a lullaby. Barthel’s vocals are expansive and drifting as she croons “Am I wanted inside? / Say goodbye, do you feel liked? / Wave goodbye, and your heart’s not in line.” The track’s title is yet another illusion: despite referencing a comedic actor, the song is actually wistful and somber. The dreamy melody of “Bill Murray” is something you’d listen to right before shutting your eyes and welcoming sleep.

The album picks up again with the energetic “Celebrating Nothing.” The track muses on living and dying, themes Phantogram frequent in their music. Even with changes in tempo, it is evident the songs on Voices piece together. The tracks are more patterned and consistent than the experimentation and choppy variety experienced on 2009’s Eyelid Movies.

The depth and profoundness drawn from Voices is in the details, from the microphone buzz in opener “Nothing But Trouble” to the mesmerizing background drum beat in “Bad Dreams.” It may take a few listens for the untrained ear, but the ethereal sounds created by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter will prove to gratify. While phantograms may be based on trickery and distortion, the quality of Voices is no illusion.

And They’re Off! Marathon Monday: A Global Turnout

        

It may be called the Boston Marathon, but Bostonians aren’t the only ones running it.

Runners and spectators from around the globe joined together for the 118th Boston Marathon. Hundreds of planes made their way into Boston and thousands of miles were traveled leading up to the race.

For runners, many months of hard work and dedication were put into this day. 26.2 miles is no walk in the park (literally), and preparation can be challenging and grueling.

All of this pays off once runners reach Boylston and cross the finish line.

“When I crossed it, I cried. This is my dream. For all the marathon runners of the world, the dream is of Boston,” said Chilean runner Diego Vanesuela.

And for many runners, it may be the last time they cross the finish line. Marathon participant Billy Lapidus says that this will be the last marathon he runs. He and many others felt this was a significant race to end on, considering the events of last year. Many see running this marathon as a symbol of the resilience and strength humanity still holds, even after an event as tragic as a bombing.

From Hopkinton to Copley, fans lined the roads and cheered runners on as they sped by. Many spectators wore Boston Strong shirts and blue and yellow attire, holding signs for loved ones and waving flags from their native countries. 

After the marathon, runners could be seen in the Public Garden and Boston Common or walking throughout the city, smiles on their faces and gleaming medals around their necks. Regardless of whether attendees came from across the ocean or across the street, they all shared the feelings of unity and glory.

“Just the spirit of the event and all the others running, and all for the same purpose, keeps me going,” said Lapidus.

 

To hear more about how runners prepare for the race and celebrate after, listen to the full interview with runner Billy Lapidus from Birmingham, Alabama:

https://median.emerson.edu/embed/35687/

And to hear about why the Boston Marathon is so significant from a foreign perspective, listen to the full interview with runner Diego Vanesuela from Chile, South America:

https://median.emerson.edu/embed/35689/

Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Anniversary

   Click play below for video.

Running feet. Sounds of explosion. Frantic cries. All this occurred when two bombs were set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring over two hundred. Though it has been one year, it still seems like yesterday to many. With the  anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing comes many emotions throughout the city and worldwide. Pain, sorrow, and grief for the losses, along with kindness, care, and pride as we move forward.

All of this was felt as the city commemorated the events of that fatal day. On April 15, exactly a year after the Marathon bombing, a special memorial service was held at the Hynes Convention Center. Speeches were given by former mayor Thomas Menino, Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Marty Walsh, along with survivors Adrianne Haslet-Davis, Patrick Downes, and many others. A running theme of the event was strength by community and the courage to move on. Performances were given by Boston Children’s Chorus, The Boston Pops Orchestra, and gospel singer Renese King.

Outside, a moment of silence was shared throughout the city. Church bells rang and the national anthem was sung as the American flag was raised. Despite the wind and rain, people gathered by the finish line and all along Boylston Street to commemorate.

All over Boston, people and places showed their support. The Old South Boston Church hung the original flags from the Marathon, storefronts had yellow and blue balloons, restaurants offered specials, and uplifting messages were shown on posters everywhere.

At the Boston Public Library, a special exhibition displayed objects and memorabilia from last year’s memorial. Beautiful and touching, photographs from the Marathon and hand-written signs by children with uplifting messages filled the room. In the center were pairs of athletic shoes left at the memorial by runners to show their respect. To the side were the four crosses made for the four fatalities of the bombing. In one area stood trees where visitors could write a message on a piece of paper with string and hang them on the branches.

Over at the Boston Common, giant canvases were spread over the grass. Each canvas was from a different state or part of the world and had messages of support and love for Boston. The canvases ranged from sports teams such as the LA Dodgers to fraternities and sororities. The project was created by America 4 Boston Prayer Canvases. Founder of the project Kari Wagner says her goal was to create a project everyone could participate in to show their compassion and resilience. She believes it also symbolizes our unity as a country.

All these dedications and events held in light of the Boston Marathon bombing’s anniversary send a very special message: when terror strikes, we fight back. Nothing can take away from the love and unity that has come from humanity through the disaster. This one year anniversary has shown that with tragedy comes compassion and kindness. For every person that seeks to destroy, there are thousands of others ready to rebuild.

IN STUDIO: The Districts

Their name is The Districts, and if you haven’t listened to them yet, you should probably start now.

The 4-man band stopped by the WERS 88.9 studio today to play a couple of songs in honor of Live Music Week. This past January, The Districts released a self-titled EP featuring five tracks. The EP included some older songs as well as some new ones and was released through Fat Possum Records. Their current tour called for two stops in Boston, and our radio station was excited to have them come in and perform.

Sporting pullovers and jeans, the band sat down with their respective instruments and made themselves at home. A ‘rock, paper, scissors’ match was held to determine who got the last water bottle (drummer Braden Lawrence did, despite doing a thumbs-up instead of a rock symbol). The members all joked and smiled with one another as they warmed up.

This cheery atmosphere transferred over to their music as The Districts began their performance. Lead singer Rob Grote described their sound as a “mash-up of blues, folk, and rock.” The first song they played, “Rocking Chair,” began with sweet sounding guitar strokes. After a few seconds, Grote’s vocals kicked in, taking the room by storm. The sounds of “Rocking Chair” were transcending and dream-like, elevating beyond expectation. The band joined in harmony for a series of “oooo”s and upbeat “wooo!”s between verses. Maracas and bells accompanied the more traditional instruments, making for a unique sound. 

Surprisingly, this was the first time the members of The Districts had visited Boston, let alone WERS. Being from a small town in Pennsylvania, the band agreed that getting to travel to new places and do what they love has been truly rewarding. They were excited to get out and tour and noted that “Waking up in a different place every day keeps you on your toes. There’s no time to dwell, only to move forward.”

The second song the band played was titled “Stay Open.” Guitarist Mark Larson joined in with Grote on vocals for this one, their voices harmonizing and creating soaring melodies as they sang lines such as “Stay open / To catch my fall / … Won’t give my love for free / Please, take it from me.” Grote writes the lyrics for the band’s music and draws inspiration from “reflections on experiences and their emotional impacts.” The live acoustic version of the song was reminiscent of a wildflower blooming in the desert, a warmth strong enough to thaw the bitter cold of this winter day.

The band has been enjoying their current tour with White Denim, playing packed shows with positive audience responses. Their favorite song to perform on stage is actually a new one titled “Chlorine.” The band loves playing new music live, stating that it “feels fresh” and is a nice change of pace. This is good news to fans who are eagerly anticipating new music from The Districts. The band has a busy next few months ahead of them, making stops all across the country and even the UK. They will be touring with Dr. Dog this summer and playing at big name music festivals such as Sasquatch, Shaky Knees, and Boston’s very own Boston Calling.

At the end of their performance, The Districts thanked WERS and quietly packed up. Still lingering in the studio was the impact of their glorious acoustic session. The band was almost ready to leave, but not without a mutual declaration of “Boston rocks!”

Be sure to keep up with The Districts and listen to Live Music Week on 88.9 WERS.

IN STUDIO: Haerts

We were honored to have Haerts visit the WERS 88.9 studio to give a special performance for Live Music Week! Hailing from Germany, England, and the US, the members of Haerts may come from different places, but they share the same passion for music. The band performed songs from their EP Hemiplegia and gave us some insight on what we can expect from them in the future (hello full length album and new tour dates!). Be sure to see the band in concert when they visit a city near you and to tune into 88.9 WERS to hear more Haerts. Also remember to visit www.wers.org to donate to the station and help support Live Music Week.

Live In Concert: Albert Hammond Jr.

Albert Hammond Jr. brought the energy to Brighton Music Hall as he played before an eager Boston crowd. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because you may know him from a little band called The Strokes. He plays guitar in The Strokes and also sings in his solo career. Albert played a variety songs from his 2 solo albums, Yours To Keep, and ¿Cómo Te Llama? , as well as newer material off of his recent EP, AHJ. The atmosphere of the venue and the crowd was intimate, sharing a feeling of personal connection between those standing below and Albert himself. The set design appeared to be less-is-more, with simple red lights illuminating the stage for the full duration of the set. There is no denying that the show was highly entertaining – between the goofy faces Albert made, those infamous dance moves, and a hot pink bra being thrown on stage (which hung proudly on a band mate’s guitar for the rest of the set), it was easy to sing along and bond with others in the crowd. Audience favorites seemed to be “St. Justice,” “The Boss Americana,” and Hammond’s most famous, “In Transit.” After the show, Albert changed into a black jacket imprinted with his initials “AHJ” and the canine that appears on the album cover. He was kind enough to stick around and chat with fans and meet every person who waited. He is just as personable and goofy off stage as he is on. It is the combination of that bright personality mixed with extreme musical talent that makes Albert Hammond Jr. a successful soloist – not just “that dude from The Strokes.”

IN STUDIO: Will Dailey

WERS had the pleasure of welcoming Massachusetts native Will Dailey to our studio. Dailey has scored wins from the Boston Music Awards a grand five times: for Best Male Singer-Songwriter in 2006, 2009, and in 2012, and for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year in 2014. His rich vocals and contagious energy served as evidence of his worth in such successes. Check out upcoming tour dates here.