I am not always the timeliest of reviewers. You look at most 'zines and blogs, and they cycle through reviews rapidly, each day posting something that came out really recently. That is kind of cool i guess. It helps the reader keep up with current developments in music. However, people don't just buy brand new releases. There is a vast world of music out there, and not all of it came out this week.
Also, there are records that seem great on first listen, but get dull over time. And there are some that are not that great at first, but which keep drawing you back in. We at EvilSponge like these kinds of albums, which Indoor Miner refers to as "a grower", meaning it grows on you. The thing is, it takes a while to really see which albums are growers and which are genuinely clunky.
The Tunnel by Ghost Heart is a grower. It was released a year and half ago, and their promo company kindly sent me a copy. It has sat on my phone for all of that time, the eight tracks variously floating to the top of the random play stream. It took me a while to realize that the band is doing some pretty interesting things.
But first, some biographical info. The Tunnel is the debut record by Ghost Heart, who are a four-piece band from Grand Rapids, Michigan. For those of you, like me, unfamiliar with the geography of the Midwest, i went and looked this place up on Google maps. Apparently it is where President Ford was from, and looks like a city on a river a bit inland from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, in a direct line east from Milwaukee. Okay. I guess that river is all white water or something, at least according to the name of the city.
Well, no matter. These four people (no names given on any of their websites) make complex indie rock with deep percussion, high-pitched vocals, lots of harmonies, chiming guitar, and layers of keyboards. The overall effect, to be honest, reminds me of Maps and Atlases, with perhaps a bit of A Thousand Leaves-era Sonic Youth thrown in. Not that this is a bad thing at all, and Ghost Heart do it very well. The Tunnel is a nicely complex record, full of catchy long tunes that ebb and flow in odd directions.
One warning -- the vocalist has a high-pitched and somewhat nasally voice. This might bother some people. Be forewarned.
The record starts off with Phantom Harmony, a staccato organ riff and oohing voices driving it along. It grows slowly, the lead vocalist really wailing, echoed like he is standing back from the microphone and just shouting. I bet this sounds really cool when they do it on stage. As the song grows, guitar and more keys come in, until the drums kick just as the guitarist cranks up the overdrive, about four minutes in. Nice.
At this point, i must mention the drumming. The drum sounds are loud and clear and echoed. As i listen on headphones, i can see the drummer there, with mallets, pounding away. The sound is so clear, i am pretty sure i can visualize what drum he is playing at each point in time. It is a masterful recording job, and whoever recorded these drums needs to be recognized. I would do so, except the promo i got had no such data at all.
Up next is one of two free songs you can download (from their label page), and is called No Canticle (I keep wanting to add "For Liebowitz", but who knows if Ghost Heart are into 1950s apocalyptic sci-fi novels). Here, Ghost Heart really channel Maps and Atlases, with the whole band singing along and that awesome deep drumming. It grows slowly over almost 8 minutes, the guitars building over the percussion. Very nicely done. Wherever You Are is an eerie interlude of soaring non-harmonized wordless singing and sparse clattering percussion. It is over in less than 90 seconds, but still a little disconcerting.
Wilderness is offered for free on their BandCamp page. It starts with one guitar fast, the other chiming along as the drummer clatters odd percussion. It grows really nicely, the guitars progressing through various distortions as those amazing drums pound away. Little Vampires features a part in the middle where it gets minimal, the drummer shaking some percussion as the guitars pick out a happy little riff while the voices oooh.... It is a really lovely moment. Salty Sea starts with a strange rumbling noise, and then proceeds to echo and tinkle along like a song by Landing. The voice sounds different here as well -- is this a different band member singing?
On Black Air, the drummer really cuts loose. Not that he was restrained before, but this is where he shines brightest. The tune starts with guitars noodling and scattered percussion, almost like the intro to a Dirty 3 song. Then the drummer, frustrated at the lack of direction, starts an amazing, thudding riff. The guitars fall in line, twinkling and spinning until it all builds into a staccato rhythm, the drums thudding as all four voices wail away. Wonderful. And finally we wrap things up with Human Elements, another epic tune that starts with rapid scattered drumming and droning guitar, and builds to a guitar crescendo worthy of Explosions in the Sky. A great way to end the record, and one that always leaves me wanting more.
This album is close to 45 minutes long, but it never seems long enough to me. That is a sign of a "grower", gentle reader. Give Ghost Heart a chance, and i bet they will grow on you as well.