To Bury a Ghost: "Birthday"
By George Bass | 14 January 2011
At what point in the run-up to releasing your EP do you decide “Fuck it, this won’t sell, let’s just give it away as a download”? Presumably when you’re re-reading your old EMI rejection letters, each of which tells you thank you for submitting but unfortunately you’re not what we’re looking for (though any similar material we produce in the future is purely coincidental and not fraudulent). To Bury A Ghost must have shoe boxes full of these letters, though not for the most immediate reason: it’s more because Jonathan Stolber’s songwriting assails you like a three on one street mugging, with the other two muggers being Matt Bellamy of Muse and all five members of Radiohead. The band’s debut EP, The Hurt Kingdom, lists four tracks/one remix on its sleeve art, but anyone with access to separation software could probably cut it and sell it as a double-album. You see, To Bury a Ghost like to change direction—at least four times per track—and they also like to work through every mood rock cliché until they’ve covered all emotions in the book. The end product hits you like a slug of eyeball vodka and boasts enough melancholy to make your sofa cry. So in your face, major label executive who got the intern to PP the “no” letter. This little sucker could’ve happily kept you in mini-series soundtracks forever.
“Birthday,” TBAG’s lead download, lays out Stolber’s tactics for composition in one twisting five-minute frenzy. It’s ska! It’s orchestral! It’s Keane going moody! It’s ska again! Starting with with a fanfare of gangster horns and enough shards of “Planet Telex” to make Thom Yorke stir, the track soon trades its trip-hop drums for piano, strings and loose folk vibes. Marc Bransgrove’s bass guitar catches the frisbee next, and runs away making strange crunching noises that show TBAG’s concealed power. That’s the cue for Jonathan Stolber to fire his starting pistol, break into falsetto and howl “We will not sail away,” like he’s unbottling personal issues with Enya (and fighting her with mild piano breakdowns). Stolber wins, does a dance, and celebrates by changing direction again, bringing in choirs and icy ambience before drowning himself to the last strains of “Karma Police.” And then… that’s a wrap. A twelve-song EMI record compressed into one track, from Bandcamp to hard disk in a click. Stretch, breathe, sip water, and relax. Then listen again and try and isolate the points where the baton gets passed. You might need separation software first.