On “Nothing But Trouble,” the opening track from dark-and-dancey pop duo Phantogram’s newest effort, Voices, singer Sarah Barthel croons, “Lucy’s still crawling underground,” in her stark, off-kilter warble. This references a line from their debut album, 2009’s Eyelid Movies. It’s this throwback that sets the conceptual stage for the album.

While “Nothing But Trouble” eventually falls apart in a swarm of jagged guitar pokes and dissonant squeals, that’s pretty much as close the album gets to breaking the stylistic mould that Phantogram established with their debut.

Leaning hard on the success of their macabre brand of unsettling pop music, Phantogram fails to do anything revolutionary or outstanding with their sophomore effort. The melodies are there in fine form, especially the catchy “Howling at the Moon,” but they all feel a bit too familiar.

Though the duo switches it up with the club-inspired “Black Out Days,” it seems more like a ploy to appeal to the drug-fuelled electro scene than it does a sincere stylistic choice. Likewise, on the sparse and fuzzy, “Never Going Home,” vocalist Josh Carter sounds as if he’s aping Daniel Rossen’s vocal style over a beat he stole from Ernest Greene, while cliché, back-masked guitars flow in and out of the track.

When all is said and done, Voices is by no means a bad album, but simply an upbeat collection of brooding pop tunes that fails to inspire beyond being fairly decent background music.

By Nick Laugher

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