Ghost Culture – Ghost Culture

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 James Greenwood was definitive from the outset in laying out his intentions for his debut full-length as Ghost Culture: ‘I don’t want to make a club album – it’s more of a soft headphones thing’. This will come as no surprise to fans of Erol Alkan’s Phantasy label, which Greenwood calls home. Much like Erol himself, the label has swung from trippy Synth-Pop to Acid Techno with little regard for a saleable 4×4 club template. A true connoisseur of sound design that stretches beyond any focus on form, Erol has embedded and nurtured that same creative ethic at the heart of his ascendant label. More surprising, however, is that the debut Ghost Culture LP is the first release from Phantasy in album format. Such a template favours the exploratory approach to production that many of its artists take. That the Ghost Culture album was commissioned off the back of a single track is testament to the immediately memorable impact of Greenwood’s style.

It has been over a year since ‘Mouth’, the album’s launch-point (and the lone spark that originally caught Erol’s attention), was released as a single, but it still has an impact as an opener. Its sculpted trills and shy, gentle pads, creative a rising swell of emotion, which somewhat unexpectedly gives way to a creeping, and eventually acidic bassline, tempered with melancholic vocals. It builds and fades at its leisure, with much attention paid to the details and nuances of the sound. There is not a huge amount of internal coherence between the beginning, middle and concluding thirds of the track but it does not mean that it loses its appeal. Greenwood simply has a lot to ideas to bring to life. Next up is ‘Giudecca’, an epic slice of Synth-Pop that showcases his trademark filtered vocals and his deft use of classically influenced harmonies.

Arms’ leans so heavily on the musical fabric of the 80’s, from the more widely acknowledged Depeche Mode to the more underground realms of the German electro movement, that its energy really does seem borne out of another era. The vocals of ‘How’, in contrast, are so slowly, gently and exactly annunciated that they have something of a soporific effect. The dreamlike, spacey arpeggios tip you further into submission – deeply powerful surges of bass-driven harmony later imposing themselves to add an extra layer of ecstasy.

Glass’ plays out on the same theme of floating euphoria before switching to a more dubby tone, taking a turn down a more experimental rabbit-hole. ‘Glaciers’, on the other hand, is a rare reflective ballad for the modern electronic era. ‘Answers’ is the primary option for those looking for club material. The tripped-out melody of the album’s layered tones dies away, leaving a lone synth which builds from the ground up, leading you into an ever-escalating frenzy.

The album is built with live performance firmly in mind and it will certainly be interesting to see how Greenwood takes up the challenge. His pervasive use of faint and filtered vocals provides a dampening counterbalance to the real focus – the textures of a producer who is evidently straining to push the boundaries. It ultimately feels coherent as an album, but there’s a definite sense that Ghost Culture could take some of his most organic ideas and run with them a little further. There is a deep and colourful emotional palette on display here, but you sense that there is more to come from the wilder recesses of his mind.