Thanks to La La Land, Hollywood is getting shine for its magical skyline and hamster-wheel hustle. But if the film's characters had been more into house music than old-school jazz, Phantoms could've provided the perfect soundtrack. The production duo — Kyle Kaplan and Vinnie Pergola, two former teen actors who traded the red carpet for the recording studio — makes escapist, vocal-heavy dance music inspired by the city's surreal nightlife, an amusement park of gritty warehouses and glitzy nightclubs in which everyone's trying to make it.
"Here's how it goes," Kaplan tells NPR. "You're in a swanky club filled with beautiful people and it feels glamorous for, like, 10 minutes. But then, you realize you're watching Leonardo DiCaprio fend off phony girls and your bank account is empty and suddenly it's very sad. That's going out in LA: It's the Twilight Zone."
Pergola chimes in: "But you have two choices: You can go home or roll with it. We roll with it."
The key is not to take yourself too seriously, they say, and that's what makes their music feel so effortless and pleasing. Their new single, "Just A Feeling," is deep and flirty, with a throbbing bass line that builds and drops gracefully over five minutes. It's the kind of track you can lose yourself in at the right club in the right hour.
Kaplan, the pop-minded half of the duo, says he's inspired by some of dance-pop's more theatrical acts, such as The Weeknd, Justice and Daft Punk, and wanted "Just A Feeling" to follow a concrete emotional storyline. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a girl who's leading a guy on even though she knows she isn't interested. "She isn't the good person in the equation, but we like writing from different head spaces," he says.
The vocals are courtesy of Brooklyn singer-songwriter Vérité (real name: Kelsey Byrne) who made waves when she covered The 1975's "Somebody Else" last fall. Her breathy soprano is spellbinding at times, and calls to mind Deadmau5 and Kaskade's "I Remember." Pergola remembers first hearing that song in 2008 when he and Kaplan were in a hard-hitting electro phase. "It was so unbelievably pretty, I felt like I wasn't supposed to like it," he says, "but it's irresistible, undeniable. I'll be flattered if fans hear some of that in our song."
He takes cues from electronic producers like Nicolas Jaar, John Talabot and Daniel Avery, who make music that's rich in tension but never flashy or flamboyant. Their influence is obvious in "Just A Feeling," which tells a story with structure rather than special effects. Around 2:30, the instrumentals strip back to just coos, hums and pulsing synths before taking a full minute to rebuild. It's supposed to signify the moment the girl considers changing her mind. "We wanted to draw that moment out and make it suspenseful," Pergola says. "Resolution should never come easy."
Phantoms is out March 31 via Casablanca/Republic.