From beginning to end, Phantogram’s Three borrows from only the most forward-thinking aspects of contemporary music from the last fifteen-plus years. Whether it’s the Kanye-production-inspired old-timey chorus sampled on “Same Old Blues” or the buzzsaw bass grinding through “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” (which immediately brings to mind Radiohead’s “Myxamatosis”), Three has the Greenwich, New York duo, consisting of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, cherry-picking studio gimmicks from only the finest musicians across a diverse range of popular genres of the last two decades.
Sarah Barthel’s gorgeous, soulful vocals work well for the majority of songs she sings solo, like the tender power ballad “Destroyer”, as well as the album’s sexy hip-hop finale “Calling All”. On the other hand, Josh Carter’s lone solitary turn on Three, a track called “Barking Dog”, suffers from repetitive, simplistic lyrics and a lackluster vocal range. Remarkably, however, as if Barthel’s mere presence emboldens her male counterpart, the songs on Three that the pair sing together (which make up roughly half of the record) all manage to work exceptionally well. When combined, the two definitely bring out the best in one another both lyrically and musically.
Although largely derivative stylistically, the slick production throughout the ten tracks that make up Three manages to draw from enough disparate sources that the album never feels tedious. Additionally, the subject matter that drives each track helps to create a tonal arc that cleverly takes the listener on a journey that begins in a shadowy tunnel and ends in a radiant nightclub, concluding with the aforementioned “Calling All”, which finds Phantogram reveling in their sexual expressiveness as Barthel seductively repeats, “We all got a little bit of ho in us” to a funk-infused beat. All in all, Three is a fun journey, and Carter and Barthel prove to be capable, entertaining guides.