Big Grams: glitz and glitter, but no gold

Big Boi and Phantogram’s collaboration proves more novelty than anything else

Album: Big Grams

Artist: Big Grams

Label: Epic

Release Date: Sept. 25

Grade: B

Big Grams is a lot of sweet talk, but no real finesse.

The self-titled collaborative project between Big Boi (Antwan Patton) and Phantogram (Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter) has all the critical elements that a good album should have, good hooks and slick production – but the parts that standout, Big Boi’s trademark staccato style and Phantogram’s lilting vocals, never coalesce into something substantive.

The problem is the artists never seem to find a comfortable middle ground. The artists’ identities are too separate and distinct through the album to feel natural. The musical flow of the album suffers as a result.

The album feels like a tug-of-war, a continuous back and forth between 30-seconds snippets of Big Boi and Phantogram’s pervasive styles.

Nowhere is this more evident than on “Fell in the Sun.” The song is exactly 50-50. The first two minutes of the song is a classic Big Boi southern-rap track; the next two minutes is a dream-pop Phantogram song.

This isn’t the first collaboration between the two. On Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, the rapper featured Phantogram, as well as Wavves and Little Dragon.

However, where, on Vicious Lies, the album’s ambitious spirit was able to carry the artists past their IRL personas into new, uncharted creative territory, Big Grams feels imbalanced and overwrought.

The artists are not able to create an artistic identity beyond their respective personas: Big Boi and Phantogram.

Which isn’t to say they don’t try.

“Put It On Her,” a standout of the album, is the most-aptly paced and composed song of the album. The song doesn’t feel like a teeter-totter, rather Big Boi’s stuttering verses and Bethel’s airy lyrics harmonize so well that the song highlights the obvious disjunction within the rest of the songs.

Produced primarily by Phantogram, Josh Carter’s consistent, spatial production often helps gloss over the obvious holes in the other song making elements of the album. Carter, out of everyone, is best able to adapt his beats making to the blending genres.

On “Goldmine Junkie,” Carter’s looping keys and drum snare hold the song together while Big Boi and Sarah Barthel flounder, trying to harmonize to each other’s style. Big Boi’s attempt to backup Barthel’s vocals feels almost as contrived as Barthel’s attempt to rap.

There is no give on Big Grams, only take. Both artists seem unable to stretch their respective personas wide enough to accommodate the other.

And, for this reason, Big Grams feels a bit like a novelty, a pretty trinket no amount of slick beats, nimble hooks or dick jokes can turn into gold.

Brian Windschitl is the senior arts editor and can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @_brnwnd.