United Ghosts: S/T (Independent)
Californian band United Ghosts have turned a few heads with their shoegazey dream-pop, but have they got enough about them to really make an impact?
It’s probably quite warm in California right now, but over here in the UK we’re in the middle of an unseasonal cold snap. Though biting winds and blankets of snow are not best soundtracked by the warmth of dreamy Californians United Ghosts, they may go some way to ushering in the thaw, as you can’t help but feel a sunny glow whilst their eponymous debut album unfurls across ten seemingly blissful tracks. It’s not all plain sailing though, from the warmth they create comes a lethargy that neither the band not the listener can shift.
There’s no sense of urgency anywhere across the record, it’s all very smooth and silky. Album opener ‘Echo Lake’ sets a cozy tone which pervades through every track on here. Lush vocal harmonies only serve to enhance this somewhat. Their languid basslines all have a very calming effect, ‘Unhypnotized’ proving to be anything but. The only problem with this though is that it’s easy to get a bit too comfy. There’s a soporific effect the gentleness of the vocals on their cushion of delayed guitars, keys and coo-ing harmonies do little to counter, which is to say, if you don’t try hard enough, it’ll probably send you to sleep. Not through boredom, rather more from the haziness it surrounds you with. If music could be humid, this would be it. ‘The Revolution Waiting’ attempts to get a bit more lively, but soon falls back into an all too familiar pattern, likewise ‘Modern Crime’. The sprightly, mercifully upbeat ‘Sparks From A Cold Star’ hints quite heavily at Teenage Fanclub and Brendan Benson but it’s impact is lessened by the rather predictable course it inevitably follows.
Perhaps this is no bad thing though, depending on how you view it. Slowdive made a career of never really shifting out of second gear and delivered some fine records this way, but they had a little more creativity and direction about them. So we hark back to the weather again, as the key to enjoying United Ghosts probably lurks somewhere here. If you imagine sitting in a festival field on a blazing hot summer’s afternoon feeling a little woozy, then this would probably be the perfect setting to soak in United Ghosts’ languorous groove. Facing an icy blast from a vicious March wind is not. It’s not a bad record, but lacks a little substance and doesn’t stick in the memory for long after it finishes, as the tracks are all more or less one-paced, pedestrian and consequently overly homogenised. For example, the guitars and the vocals have the same soft fuzz to them where it may have been better for one or the other to have been dirtied up a bit.
This is all being a little mean though. The album’s standout track ‘Holes Into The Night’ really is very good. The liveliest track on the record, it’s reminiscent of Low, Lush, Band Of Horses and perhaps even the Delays, if they’d had a bit of adrenalin. But it doesn’t do enough to salvage the more dreary moments. They can write a melody, string some nice chords together, arrange things very well, they just need a shift in perspective to make it all click a little better. As the opening gambit to a career, it’s probably not too bad, but it could’ve been a whole lot better in the summer.