13 & God

Own Your Ghost

(Anticon; 2011)

By Chet Betz | 5 May 2011

In my review of 13 & God’s self-titled debut released in 2005 I surmised something of their name being a play on Jesus and his twelve disciples with Christ doing double duty as God and man—thus the 13 sum. In response to this new record my colleague Goldstein asked if their name was a play on KRS-One’s “13 & Good.” The answer, of course, must be both. And they make good on their name with Own Your Ghost in more ways than one, too. If the self-titled was a first-blush attempt at a marriage of disparate styles that yielded just a couple highlights, Own Your Ghost sounds truly in possession of the spirit of the collaboration between art-rap outfitters Adam Drucker (Dose One), Jel, and Dax and the glitch-pop gurus of the Notwist (Markus Acher, Michael Acher, and Martin Gretschmann). It is a cohesive suite of powerfully effective songs with one thing on its mind: “the inexorable march of Time.”

Death, decay, old age, being “unyoung”—these are the record’s keywords, popping up again and again like a melody that Drucker and Archer can’t shake. So they don’t try. Own Your Ghost triumphs in its multiple thematic devices: in the way “Death Major” is not just later flipped by “Death Minor” but in the tricks 13 & God pull to ensure that the two tracks are absolutely equal in their levels of tonal ambivalence, despite the major and minor keys; or in the way a couple stray Dose lines from “Death Major” (“you can’t take the ‘eat’ out of death” and “it’s an eat on us”) evolve into their own Archer-led song “Beat on Us,” a marvel of modern chamber-pop orchestration which begins with a keening mix of strings and tones that accelerates with the introduction of the beat and finally devolves into a warbling loop of synth and rap. If source inspiration for Own Your Ghost could be as simple as fearful glances at the calendar (“calendar” another keyword for the record and almost an arch-nemesis) then at least that most common and base of dreads is treated here with frank philosophy and gorgeous music, beauty and wisdom that echo like a retort to the ominous ticker of our survival instinct. Why, “Old Age” has a nigh beatific chorus and in its verses declares its titular term “invincible / perfect in its purpose for a call of man to end.” You’ve never heard cellular decrepitude glorified like this.

I’m reminded of how Norman Mailer recounts in The Executioner’s Song the disgust and fear that murder convict Gary Gilmore felt for something he called “the Oldness.” In a way Own Your Ghost seems a resolute effort to fight that fear, if not the Oldness itself. It’s in despair that we truly lose our life, the record seems to posit, so we should dip our “scarves in iron”— a sage if abstract bit of advice from “Armored Scarves,” the record’s most indie-epic track with its poignant melody and vocal rounds that spiral ever upward. And I think there are hints of even higher hopes, though they are mostly hints of omission. The album’s title is its own glimmer, and the cold stretch of “Janu Are” ends in emphatic distortion blasts as Drucker repeats, “13 and…13 and…13 and…” Whether the silent point to the band name is meant to imply that God is or isn’t there doesn’t fully matter, really, as the ambiguity itself has its own inexplicable warmth. As does the music of Own Your Ghost, front to back.

There’s a storyline in Judd Apatow’s TV series Undeclared where, after just one brutal Philosophy class, pretty boy Lloyd finds himself caught in a heavy existentialist funk. At the end of the episode he overhears a student playing violin. He listens intently and then, tears in his eyes, tells her that her playing was “heavenly.” She practically spits back, “It sucked,” and then goes back to practicing. This, fellow students of life (and death), is Own Your Ghost in a nutshell. It is a profound extrapolation of the idea that music can be, you know, life-affirming—even if only in our experience of it. Own Your Ghost may not make you cry, but maybe it’s good enough to let you know that you’re not dead inside.