See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Phantasmagoria 

When acoustic jangle meets high-tech

With their fresh, underage faces gracing the sun-splashed cover of MT's 2011 Blowout issue, Phantasmagoria seemed to signal a new freshman class in Detroit's music school. They set out to make "electro" sound "earthier," teasing warmer ambience with their synthesizers and tapping bongos and timbales across motherboards and oscillators. Their computers have "hearts of gold," proven enough by their penchant for covering Neil Young (or even Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box)."

"I just enjoy the peace that being secluded in nature brings," says singer Lianna Vanicelli of her and Christopher Jarvis' reverence for camping and traveling — and how it informs their music. "The sky at night, fresh air, forest scents, swimming in Lake Michigan, hiking the dunes and the constant beautiful sights." These techno-minded outdoorsy types, unveil their second album, Currents, this week.


1 

Vanicelli's actually a natural and Jarvis used to be a hardcore punk rocker. Vanicelli's radiant, sometimes wintry voice is as crucial to their sound as Jarvis' shimmering synths and fuzz-burst beats. Dynamic as her vocals are, she wasn't a choirgirl, and actually only took a couple singing lessons before dropping it and joining her first rock band at age 15. Teenage Jarvis, meanwhile, wasn't a computer nerd; he started music on the guitar and shredded in punk bands, then indie-rock bands, eventually joining one that featured Vanicelli as a singer. He was so struck by Vanicelli's crooning that he started writing laptop-demos via the GarageBand program, designed personally for her. 


2 

They didn't really "intend to make an album," the first time around. Last year's Spirit "was just random, really," Jarvis admits. The songs came together pretty fast, built around random loops spun by Jarvis, then supplemented and sweetened by Vanicelli's words and melodies. Currents, in contrast, was written as a whole, Jarvis says, with more attention to detail (though he admits he was already "meticulous" enough with mixing, re-mixing, re-editing, etc). This, Vanicelli says, is their "actual 'first' album." 


3 

You can pre-program shades of the human touch. Jarvis occasionally "makes drums off-time on purpose" inside Phantasmagoria songs. He wasn't sure why, he confided to Steve Kendzorski, bassist-drummer of local duo Illy Mack, while the two bands spent an evening together discussing their respective recordings. Kendzorski, who, with Illy guitarist-singer Jen David covered a Phantasmagoria song at Blowout last March, suspects Jarvis does this on his computer-based songs "because it just feels good. Because it's not on mechanically." 


4 

The band has covered the rock-raucous soul-pop of Illy Mack and space-rock gods like Radiohead, but they also dabble in remixes. They recently remixed a song by Passalacqua (a local hip-hop duo that's part of the roundup of Kresge Artist Fellows elsewhere in this issue). They also covered Illy Mack's quirky, rough-hewn rock style at last year's Blowout. The covers-swap brought both bands to find common ground between their digital and analog poles.


5 

So the next class is ready to graduate. And the lesson learned, Vanicelli says, is there are pros and cons to perfectionism in a studio. "We spent a lot more time perfecting minor details, tweaking the song order and the overall vibes they produced," she says. That prolonged the process, but only because, Jarvis says, they wanted to make the "absolute best and truest" album. But in the end, he concludes:  "All you can do is make an album that you like."


The Currents release party is at 9 p.m. Friday, July 13, at the Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; with Shigeto and Charles Trees.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

November 25, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2020 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation