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These Ghosts: You Are Not Lost, You Are Here

This debut album by young Norwich trio, These Ghosts, is a sophisticated blend of quirky alt-pop which deserves far more exposure than it is getting. Combining the melodic sensibility of Keane with the wrenching sincerity of Radiohead and the intricacy of Mew or The Foals, whilst borrowing ideas from artists as far afield as Catherine Wheel and Nick Drake, this album is a veritable cornucopia of tastes which belies the youth of its producers.

Calum Duncan's eerie high register voice, which balances beautifully between crackling collapse and angelic sweetness, is the sonic signature of the band but the way in which they make use of guitar effects to form symphonic soundscapes and percussion to draw parallel lines in the music is the real genius which allows These Ghosts to create a sound palette as wide as Elbow or Arcade Fire.

The album itself features 11 short and mid range songs with a high emotional content. Listen to "This is" (how many takes did it need for Calum to get that spine-tingling vocal hitch in delivering the phrase "...and gold"?) and "Breathe in/Breathe out" for hints of Radiohead or Porcupine Tree whilst the use of polyrhythms and faster paced delivery soaring over dreamy soundscapes in "Luna" or "Cocoon" draws favourable comparisons with Danish art-rockers, Mew.

The maturity of songwriting is quite astounding for such a young band and their confidence in blending this wide a variety of approaches on the album rather than the more radio-friendly indie tendency of 2 arrangements x 5 songs is to be applauded.

From the delicate Mew-like "What seems like forever" with its musical box intro and the pop sensibility of the chorus, the band's first big surprise is "Cocoon". An insane drum pattern in an odd time signature is the ambitious base for Calum's ethereal vocal before a neat switch of meter into a polyrhythmic structure which bridges the two opening verses. Gradually the pace increases with echoing guitar and clever percussive effects supporting the vocal line and heavenly choral backing. Climaxing in a cacophony of percussion and clashing guitars, Thom Yorke or Steven Wilson would be proud to have this in their repertoire.

Chill out with the emotionally charged "A fear of flying" with its lamenting string ensemble in which Calum produces a beautiful high register hitch to make the hairs on your neck stand up. Then saunter over to a smoke-filled bar for some bluesy "Rational Thinking".

"Breathe in, Breathe out" has another infectious off-beat rhythm, which is a hallmark of the band's sophisticated arrangements. The song surges from gentle pensive verses to soaring choruses and has some similarities with a like-titled song by Dutch neo-proggers RPWL. "This is" is in similar vein and is one of three really stand-out tracks for me with Calum's vocal delivery, briefly a capello, at its very best, like cool water over the song's glacial guitar and percussion arrangement. Post-rock style, the song is completed with a gradual build and climax, reminding me momentarily of the Red Sparrowes.

Ghosts of Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley shimmer in the background of "The way that we once were" before the astonishing "Luna". Chosen bravely for promo purposes, this is another ambitious piece of writing. Commencing with crashing percussion like a King Crimson blow out, the piece is quickly trimmed back to an alternating, high-low note, RIO styled arrangement but without the semitones more typical of the fashion. Frantic Catherine Wheel like guitars bring the song to its pinnacle.

A simpler pattern is used in the spacey "Control", whilst "Human Error" features more dissonant semitonal and note bending techniques as a counterpoint to the metronomic chant of "everything's going to fall to pieces" in the chorus which overlaps brilliantly with the last verse and electronic outro. Somewhat Beatlesque in a strange, Sgt Pepper, kind of way.

As delicate as the opening track, "The Escape" is a kind of strangulated lullaby which avoids being cloying by the vaguely disturbing keyboard backing and menacing arrhythmic percussion. Like the whole album, the more you hear it the more impressive it gets.

Track Listing
1. What seems like forever
2. Cocoon
3. A fear of flying
4. Rational Thinking
5. Breathe in/ out
6. This is
7. The way that we once were
8. Luna
9. Control
10. Human error
11. The escape

Added: December 27th 2010
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: Band MySpace Page
Hits: 2076
Language: english

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