Sometimes you have things come before you in life that not even your imagination can piece together its perceived quality. Could be good, could be Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. “Don’t knock it ‘till you try it”, is a common expression for supporters of the new, interesting and potentially life-changing. Now, when I came across Phantogram (now one of my favorite electronic groups) on Big Boi’s undeniably experimental 2012 album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, I was gleefully anxious. Meshing genres is nothing new in the realm of sound; but to take two extremely distinct, creative sounds and to unify them, is no small feat. A feat, nonetheless, that they recently attempted to duplicate.
It had been years since we had heard anything from the nameless, genre-less troupe. Then, as if by fortuitous happening, a song by the name of ‘Fell In The Sun’ hit the net via a group named, Big Grams. Realizing shortly after that this name is a lazily simple melding of the two separate stage names, all I could do was hope the music wouldn’t be so uninspired – and for the most part, it succeeds.
The EP takes off with ‘Run for Your Life’, a song that starts things off on a pretty low-key note. A distant snap of drumsticks colliding provides a simple enough rhythm for Big Boi to lay some of his playful Daddy Fat Sacks bars over. When the chorus reveals itself to us through the airy vocals of Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel it sounds like what you’d expect. While both parts sound singularly good, the track lacks some creative cohesion. From here on out though, that problem quickly fades away as the creativity flows into an ever-increasing current.
The second track, “Lights On’, capably eliminates any negatively juxtaposing elements. Especially evident is the highly melodic rapping from Big Boi. By the time we hit the third track, Big Grams has fully surfaced. ‘Fell In The Sun’ simultaneously overlays Sarah’s light vocals with Big Boi’s lyrics. The production is consistent and has enough Atlanta-esque hip-hop elements reformed within Phantogram’s signature psyche-pop style to allow for a seamless integration. Following right behind is a sample-laden production from 9th Wonder on ‘Put It On Her’. Big Boi smoothly puts down some suave bars about his classy demeanor that leaves women clamoring at his feet. The seductive chorus separates Big Boi’s slick utterings from Josh Carter’s, highly electronic attempt at rapping. While Josh’s style would have little chance of carrying the weight of an album by itself, here, I personally like the variation of the verse – and rhythmically, it is on point.
From bouncy, down-to-earth cadences to intergalactic synthesizers, the production spans both genres without ever being spread too thinly. The final two tracks have Big Grams opening the doors to other masters of their respective genres. Run The Jewels two-piece, Killer Mike and El-P make an in-your-face appearance on ‘Born To Shine’, while Skrillex lends a hand on club-suited banger, ‘Drum Machine’. It’s an intense and fitting end to an EP that took two separate musical entities and amalgamated them, forming something entirely new. While this EP came from nowhere and serves us only a 26-minute platter of creativity, all of its moving parts form a concise, unified whole that is almost always unique and works on more levels than it falters. Which leaves me with one question. Was this was a one-time outing or will it be known as the first breaths of a potential super group?