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The Enigma Variations of Guilty Ghosts

In his original email to The Decibel Tolls, Brooklyn’s Guilty Ghosts (a.k.a. Tristan O’Donnell) described his music as a “cross between Mogwai and Three Six Mafia,” a combination that seems absurd at first, but actually makes sense once you realize the similarities between the two groups. Both make music that’s equal parts eerie, melodramatic, and melancholy (yes, I just called Three Six Mafia melancholy; listen to the beat to “Bin Laden Weed” and then talk to me). Admittedly, O’Donnell’s sound is far closer to Mogwai’s, but once you hear his record I think you’ll understand his Three Six namedrop.

Guilty Ghosts’ self titled debut is stunning from beginning to end. Opener “Dakota Forever” sounds blown out and dissonant, but pure chords peak out like a streetlight seen through a snowstorm. “Everyone Around Me” has a backdrop of static that’s foregrounded with a twisting, Ouroboros-like guitar line and distorted drums. “Grand Illusions” has a churning, fuzzy Fennesz-esque sound that snarls and squeals above a quietly insistent drum beat. “Neverending Well” is spare and menacing, powered by little more than heavy echo and one or two repeating¬†tones. “This Is How We Collapse On The Moon (Arthur Russell tribute)” wonderfully captures the bubbling, free-flowing spirit of Russell’s music, tapping into the mix of wonder and sadness found in a song like “The Platform On the Ocean.” “Please Pray” actually could be a Three Six Mafia beat if the drums knocked a little more; it’s guitar line is gorgeous but tense, like the kind Edgar Froese used to play on later Tangerine Dream records. “Bergen Street” (which we’re offering for your consideration) features yet another great guitar line (shades of hypnagogic guitar god Mark McGuire) backed by a distorted skeleton of a drum machine beat.

As someone who gets sent six or seven instrumental albums every week, I’m a sucker for ones that try to wring emotion out of every note, every drone, and every ghostly sample. I’m not against subtle instrumental music, but there’s something you hear in certain songs (think Mogwai’s “Mogwai Fears Satan” or Boards of Canada’s “roygbiv”) that takes your breath away and reminds you all over again how powerful music can be without a word being sung. Listening to his album, I have a feeling Guilty Ghosts understands this feeling, and he’s on his way to making one of those songs that leave even those who claim to be bored with instrumental music breathless.

Guilty Ghosts’ self-titled debut (along with a new album Enigma Variations) can be heard over at his Bandcamp site.

For fans of:  Mogwai, Fennesz, Emeralds

MP3 :::
Guilty Ghosts – Bergen Street