By Clayton Purdom | 16 May 2008
This album is poised at a strange nexus of holy-fucking-shitdom. Do I love it because I listen to too much music or do I listen to too much music to find a record like this? Surely this polyglot bumblefuck is a joke of some sort, a gag on mash-ups, a grotesque parody in miniature of, like, blogging or something. Only, it can’t be that, because it’s not funny—it’s fucking serious (!). Apt title, this: Ghost Town contains within it the haunted forms of the most worn records on my shelves, specters of (yes) (seriously) Neutral Milk Hotel, New Order, the Dust Brothers at their best, the Chemical Brothers at their best, the Pixies, Is This It (2001) and pop music et al along with the resonant memories of those I’ve recently wiped with decided dissatisfaction from my cerebral RAM: the rhythmic puncture of Clark and Justice, the blissed-out fuzz of Times New Viking and No Age, the overbearing melodic earnestness of all those twee things I despise.
All of which is to say that if this record weren’t so lo- and sci-fi it might be this year’s Person Pitch (2007): that sunbaked cartwheel through sandy shores; our collective dream vacation. Like a great DJ set it played with an extensive musical background for the sole purpose of making good sounds, of sounds sounding good for self-serving purposes while toying with the segment of listeners that ponders the intersection of Brian Wilson and Ricardo Villalobos, but do so like seriously (!). I am not one of the people who bought fully into Panda Bear’s record, but I understand the appeal. The sweltering assuredness of its sonic palette, moving wildly through influences but only laterally through production aesthetic, holds a real draw, although Panda Bear often mistook his slighter moments for sublimity. Regardless, Dan Friel—knob-twiddler for Parts and Labor, a band many (myself included) turned a blind eye toward last year—has an ear for concision that renders this Ghost Town EP something like amazing. Okay, just amazing.
A note, first, on the record’s aesthetic. While it sounds fucking terrific played at ear-piercing decibels via vinyl, especially if there’s a strong, clear bass presence on the speakers (cough), you will have a moment three tracks in (the opening of “One Legged Cowboy,” specifically) whereupon you realize this record has, largely, the sonic fidelity of the NES videogame Metroid. I could see this being a deal-breaker in some circles. In my circle, by which I mean me, it’s as appealing as a bronze statuette of my genitals, meaning: very, but in a personal way. Because, I mean, if you know anything about videogame music (which you probably don’t, and shouldn’t) you would know that Metroid made more with 8 bits of sound than any other videogame of its era, something haunted and iridescent and ’80s, the bleep-bloop equivalent of Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography for Blade Runner. I’m not sure what I’m getting at here either, besides this: Ghost Town sounds like my taste in things. In an alternate universe I’m writing this same review and talking about omelettes and my one friend Mister J. (Hey, Mister J!)
Anyway, if haunted beeps are one end of the sonic spectrum explored here, the other is the revved fuzz of Outrun on “Singing Sand,” something we might call “noise” or “noise-influenced” if it contained much thunder or felt much like noise. But it is decidedly not noise; my neighbors remain unperturbed. Instead, where the track falls on the album it’s a final shake of paranoid blurts before the sanguine respiration of the album’s finale. And perhaps “Horse Heaven” falls to rest a little more serenely than a twenty-minute record should. I forgive it; the record seems okay with imperfection. It has, by “Horse Heaven,” already reached high points of aching melodicism (the twin title tracks; “Desert Song”) and of loping, jacknifed percussion (“Appliances of Bremen”), and at times pieces of both stitched together like armor across a pirouetting Sasquatch (“Buzzards”).
In short I think this is the best possible record to which I might apply flimsy critical superlatives. This is gorgeous. This is great. This is the best album of the year so far (except for Erykah Badu’s). This is better than every other record you like right now (except for Erykah Badu’s). This record makes me believe in the future of music. I could also write at least three more paragraphs comparing it to other records. I’ve got this great sentence written in my head about how it feels like Popol Vuh’s most magnanimous soundtrack work but instead of recalling the glory of helicopter-gleamed shots of mountains and glaciers it sounds as if mapped to the soaring turbidity of the best urban architecture. No, not Frank Gehry. The point is that this marriage of pop songcraft and churning lo-fi production is a work of absolute inspiration. I will continue to stand mostly alone loving Fuck Buttons, who have done something similar, but they’re marred by their attempts to grasp out of scene toward some whole untarnished beauty. On Ghost Town Dan Friel attempts no such mean feat. Here he stands alone without referent surrounded by the ghosts of his influences, breathing music like electricity. It is a self-contained triumph. It is very short. And it is, like I said, amazing.