Friday, November 16, 2012


A record attempting to capture the sound of “the ghost of a robot child”? Now that was always going to pique my interest in the maudlin and the odd-ball. But songwriter Michael James Hall, who together with arranger/producer/collaborator Mark Estall is Ghost Carriage Phantoms, has made a record that maybe one of the most mainstream sounding that will appear on these pages. Or maybe that’s has the potential to be mainstream. Either way, this assertion may strike you itself as odd when you learn this nine track debut record swings from Red House Painters sadcore (‘Heart Of A Boy‘ or ‘Woody Allen Movie’) to a single wordless song containing both distorted hall-of-mirrors gauziness AND pummelling Battles-like math-rock wigout (‘Good Luck And Good Bowling’) and then to a spoken word romance set in a condemned cinema that recalls the dramatic verse of ‘Under Milk Wood’. Now there’s diverse for you.

Despite this apparent eclecticism, downbeat murmur-pop is the foundation of ‘The Boy Lives’. And I think what makes me say ‘mainstream potential’ is Hall’s voice – yes he’s murmuring but it’s a friendly mumble, rather than off-key whining infected by terminal depression or adenoidal dysfunction (a recent comment thrown my way: “I like most of the music you listen to... until they start to sing”). So it’s not difficult to imagine the quiet emoting of ‘Videotape’ appealing to an Elbow fan or to hear an echo of Jarvis Cocker in the husky and conspiratorial ‘A Special Kind Of Cold’. And even where there is a Kozelek gloominess it is often cheerily embedded into an affable electro-folk shuffle (Babybird also springs to mind). The glorious ‘The Psychedelic Furs’ pushes this further: its fantasy world reveries (“Paul Westerberg is a household name / and we still love him / even though he sold out”) and self-deprecating humour demands a rotating mirror-ball to accompany its carefree spin across the ballroom of dreams.

It is a varied record as the list above suggests but it hangs together well; it undoubtedly feels the careful vision of one man (supported by his arranger/producer) rather than a too-many-chefs, over-cooked broth. It keeps its drones and quirkiness in patient check so that yes this is sparse bedroom pop but of a clever, likeable and quite sophisticated brand. Will "The Boy Lives" sell in its millions to the masses? Who knows - but I’d definitely move quick to get one of the 500 hand-packaged and numbered CDs.

Ghost Carriage Phantoms The Boy Lives [BUY]

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