While 2009's Eyelid Movies had Portishead—and all of '90s trip-hop—on its mind, Voices shows Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter exploring a pop/soul sound that's less ethereal, more earthbound. "Fall in Love" is a straight-up R&B track with shoegaze texture and a throbbing bass hook, and "Bad Dreams" blends gospel motifs with fuzzy house music, resulting in a radio-ready album made with a wider audience in mind that just the music-blogging intelligentsia.
The downside for Phantogram is that, though Voices is quite good, it doesn't do much to distinguish Phantogram from the current crop of artists working in the same territory. Put Voices on shuffle with Lorde's Pure Heroine or Chvrches' The Bones of What You Believe, and it would be easy to mistake "The Day You Died" for Lorde's "Team," or to assume that Barthel's vocals are Lauren Mayberry's.
Tracks where Carter takes over lead vocals—like "I Don't Blame You" and "Never Going Home"—are certainly the album's weak spots. Without Barthel at the center, Phantogram songs tend to sound like failed Bon Iver remixes. Barthel has enough personality to couch self-effacement, like when she asks "How many times can I blow it all?" on "Celebrating Nothing," in swagger. She sounds like the spotlight is owed to her, even with "a thousand voices howling in (her) head," as she asserts on "Black Out Days."
Despite some weak spots, Voices deserves a better fate than relegation to the 'If You Like Lorde ... ' playlists of the near future.