Fresh(ish) harvest from BBO regulars Ghost Box, with a new partnership of Ed MacFarlane and Ed Gibson of Friendly Fires with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle. What should this aging fanboi expect from this new direction?
The template is set from the first seconds of the introductory title track. Distorted plucking, birdsong, needlescratch, and wavering flute. This is a Ghost Box album.
But! As soon as you settle into your rocking chair for an exploration of a grainy pastoral double-exposure landscape as ‘Black Rain’ starts with its chord washes and bass pulses, the extremely groovy rhythms and bassline kick in, and you’re on your feet. This track comes to you with fuel injection – toes tapping! Then vocals! Perhaps I missed something, but this is a departure from the expected – although expectations are subjective. A great synth phrase follows them up, and ghostly backing vocals keep us dreaming. There’s even a breakdown!? What’s happening? I’ll tell you what. It’s Pastoral Synthpop, in contrast to the paleofuture neon cityscapes usually associated with this style. Neon, but diffused through curling mist over a meadow.
After this cracking opener, waltzing bass wallows, pleading vocals, plucked scrapie guitar, flute trills and synth arpeggios make ‘Don’t Let Me Dream’ a sun-soaked drift down a very British river. Who’s up for a cruise? Then follow a couple of slowies, ‘A Simple Walk’, followed by ‘Daylight’, which starts mellow but gives it some oomph in the chorus. Arms-thrown-wide ecstatic dream chorus, brassy bass synths, naive little xylophone tinkles. This is another corker. Lovely drift-out chorus, one I could happily loop for hours like that one 6ths song about Hawaii.
It wouldn’t be a Ghost Box album with an ode to some bird or other, and ‘Sparrowhawk’ fits perfectly. Soaring, twinkling, watching, swooping, and climbing again with the hint of an acid tweak in its beak. A nice little interstitial, leading nicely into ‘Man and Machine’ and ‘Fluchtwege’. With titles like that, you’d best be channelling Ralf und Florian, or at least Jean-Michel. And they are – a bit.
The former starts a bit like an Oxygene hidden track, with a boppy shuffle/shuffly bop. The vocals bring it over the Channel and into the future / the bridge has some lyrics that are unusually optimistic about our relationship with the technium / and the chorus must be the machine itself, joyfully hooting its agreement with this sweet vision. A personal fave. ‘Fluchtwege’, with it’s arpeggios, chorus of soft voices and guitar licks, is a love song to textures. Rust, snow, dust, light, whispers, touch, the stars align. You half expect an erotic story set among the corn rigs. Echoing electronic textures, pulsing notes, minimal percussion combine in ‘Polymer Dawn’. Vocals blending in with just some phrases, layers build like rays of the sun edging into view.
Starting like a folk circle with picked guitar, tambourine and vibes, ‘First in an Innocent World’ turns into a waltzing electric ode to the new day. A swirling middle with hopeful yet triumphant chords, then simple phrases repeat and fade, as the album draws to a close.
Another classic Ghost Box album. The whole package – sound, imagery, voice, feelings. A couple of filler tracks don’t prevent this being a highlight of the year, and of the year to come. Should have been in the 2016 top thirty. Soz.