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Phantogram's third album, the simply titled Three, marks the point where their music lost any traces of originality and charm and simply became more fodder for the pop music machine. The duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel started off making pop-informed music; they were never doing anything avant-garde or too daring. But as they progressed, their sound became less individual and weird in order to fit in with the prevailing tides of popular sounds. To that end, Three is the first album where they used a producer and worked with songwriters to help wade deeper into the mainstream. The duo they chose, Ricky Reed (aka Wallpaper.) and Semisonic's Dan Wilson, aren't exactly known for daring choices or originality, and they deliver exactly what the duo probably hoped for: a slick, completely modern sound that comes across like a cross between Chvrches' moody electropop and Katy Perry's empowering grandstanding, with some pseudo-gritty sexiness tacked on. Add in some mostly corny hip-hop and R&B flourishes, the occasional EDM synth burst, unwelcome stabs of arena rock guitar, and songs that reach for the back row of mid-sized stadiums but die out halfway there in a flutter of mediocrity, and the final result is uninspired and mostly forgettable. Barthel may have become a stronger vocalist and songs like "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" show off her range from a sultry whisper to a wall-shaking scream, but her efforts are mostly wasted by the nondescript songs and production. At least the songs she sings have the benefit of her voice; the few songs where Carter takes the lead are even less distinctive. Grouping three of them in a row dead center is an energy suck that basically ruins any chance Three had of righting the ship after a rocky start. There's no brilliant pop song like "Fall in Love" or beautiful ballad like "Bill Murray" from their superior previous album, Voices, to bail them out this time; Three underwhelms from beginning to end. It's the nature of pop to wear down all the sharp edges and streamline things for easy enjoyment, and it's too bad Phantogram felt the need to succumb. They already had a sound, a look, and the songs to make them popular and good. Now they are all set on the popular front, but much less so on the good or compelling side.

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