Release Date: Sep 27, 11
Much like the oxymoronic duality that their name possesses, experimental-pop group Warm Ghost’s debut full-length Narrows (Partisan Records) is an expressional work that fluctuates between an eerie, lonesome tone and a, not celebratory, but rich, welcoming one.
Earlier this year, Paul Duncan (singer/songwriter and former Tortoise and Grizzly Bear collaborator) and Oliver Chapoy (Shai Hulud) released the EP Uncut Diamond, which intrigued critics and excited fans. This was, evidently, all the motivation the duo needed to turn out a full-length album only months later.
Stylus Magazine described Duncan as a “sound designer” more than a “lyric writer” which I would agree with, but, with all the layers of synthesizer and vocals filtered through effect pedals and distortion, your attention isn’t drawn to lyrics anyway.
Ghost’s sounds are best explained as music that exemplifies imagery and emotion. By his own admission, Katharina Fritsch’s Geist and Blutache, in part, inspired Duncan to start Ghost.
Narrows is difficult to grasp but does come into focus over time. It’s obvious each blip, buzz and howl is painfully deliberate, and they all act as pieces in this intricate, dreary puzzle.
Although Narrows isn’t conceptual, it is certainly thematic. In some tracks, the collaboration of field-recordings, samples, drum-machine, synthesizer, and vocals form a slowly heaving, hypnotic wave, that rises and recedes like the tide. Meanwhile, other tracks create open, distancing space that Ghost intentionally never fills.
The album bounces back-and-forth between these two themes throughout its duration. For example, “I Will Return,” the second –and strongest – track on Narrows, is assertive but pleasant and follows a familiar song structure; which stands in stark contrast to the track “Splay of Road” and its ability to create a spacey, cosmic void by drawing out and slowing down electric pulses in order to have them span and quantify the emptiness of the track.
While the use of synthesizer is what enables Ghost to create much of their rich, diverse sounds, it also limits them. Driving its use to the point of exhaustion, the synth simply loses its efficacy. That is, if you even enjoyed its presence to begin with.
Narrows is hard to swallow and definitely isn’t for everyone. But there is something to derive from it, if you have the time to try and pry it out.
But that’s my take. We could just ask Duncan himself how to summarize the album:
“Humans are all changing from month to month,” he explains. “The only cells we never replace are the ones in our brain. We just call upon unused brain cells when our current ones are damaged or depleted. So there are small channels or neurological waterways that connect all things that make us up. That’s definitely what the record is about…and making wry humor out of the pretension of that assumption.”
… Yeah, man. Totally.