To the majority of us, unrequited or unreciprocated love is the bane of our existence. Psychiatrist Eric Berne stated in his book Sex in Human Loving that “Some say that one-sided love is better than none, but like half a loaf of bread, it is likely to grow hard and moldy sooner.” Perhaps surprisingly, some famous people thought similarly. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche contended, “Indispensable…to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.” Recent studies looking at both would-be lovers and rejectors have shown there is pain on both sides, and even that the rejector can sometimes suffer as much as the rejected.
Phantogram is an American music duo from Greenwich, New York, formed in 2007 and consisting of multi-instrumentalists and vocalists Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter. Friends since preschool, the pair went separate ways after high school, meeting again in mid-2007. Together they worked on finishing some of Carter’s earlier songwriting ideas finally forming the band Charlie Everywhere, later changed to Phantogram, a word describing an optical illusion in which two-dimensional images appear to be three-dimensional, noting parallels between this meaning and the duo’s band and music.
“When a stranger asks us what kind of music we make, we refer to it as ‘street-beat psyche-pop.” According to Carter, their music has “lots of rhythms, swirling guitars, spacey keyboards, echoes, [and] airy vocals.” Carter and Barthel are inspired by numerous artists including The Beatles, David Bowie, Cocteau Twins, The Flaming Lips, and Prince. They write and record in a family-owned remote barn in Upstate New York they named Harmonie Lodge, often in the dead of night.
“I think the production on [second album] Voices brings out the darkness a little bit more, and you can really get that loud-heavy-screaming–but-nobody–can-hear-me kind of feel. That is also what we were going for, which could be described as ‘Darkadelic’ songs with undertones of psychedelic sounds.” “We also like to keep our lyrics quite open, so people can have their own ideas about them. We don’t really write happy songs. [Barthel laughs]“
The album’s first single “Fall In Love” wasn’t supposed to be a Phantogram single at all, but a track laid down for an epic rapper to rhyme over. “It’s actually an old idea, an old beat that Josh made five years ago,” Sarah says of the song. “When we were waiting to release [initial album] Eyelid Movies, we had a space of time to work on music, and Josh made the beat. It was intended to just be for an instrumental or for an MC to rap over, but that never ended up happening. I always remembered how much I loved it, so I grabbed it from him. I had a bass synth in mind for it, and it kind of just evolved from there.”
The reworked track explores a toxic, dysfunctional relationship with both partners suffering to an inconclusive resolution. The waxing and waning synths are cleverly infused with a borrowed violin sample from the 60s Barbara Mason hit “I’m Ready“, an ironic juxtaposition against the song’s lyrically oppositional nature. It is an emotionally laden wash of surf over a metaphorical riptide of poignant regret. Falling for someone who is much more desirable than oneself — whether because of physical beauty or high levels of charm, intelligence, wit, or status is a mismatch “prone to find their love unrequited” in an unfortunate attempt perhaps at falling upward.
The strikingly sparkling studded python skin jacket Sarah wears in the video is a
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