Published Mar 04, 2020Since breaking out with their indie-tronica and dream pop-tinged debut, Eyelid Moves, in the late '00s, Phantogram have slowly moved on a path toward more conventional electro-pop. On Ceremony, they nearly complete that transition, but almost totally lose their identity in the process.
A vast majority of the tracks on the album feature booming hip-hop drum patterns, singer Sarah Barthel delivering the poppiest melodies of her career and layers upon layers of modern-sounding synthesizers. This formula is not far from what they were doing on earlier records, but most of their attempts to incorporate today's mainstream pop stylings on Ceremony come across as totally obnoxious.
Lead single "Mister Impossible" is one of the album's worst offenders. The track features distant synth horns back-dropping a loud and driving drum loop, as Barthel and other member Josh Carter croon vaguely over it. The chorus is the title of the song being sung by a robotic voice, while cycling and siren-like abrasive synths battle with the voice for dominance. Tracks like this (which comprise most of the tracklist) are a far cry from older Phantogram cuts like "When I'm Small," sonically and quality-wise.
Occasionally, the group break free of their newfound generic style on tracks like the woozy hip-hop influenced "News Today" and the trip-hop-indebted title track, but these are few and far between.
As a result, Ceremony is one of Phantogram's weakest records, one that struggles to set itself apart in the sea of electro-pop still stuck in the aesthetics of the late 2010s. (Republic)