Review Summary: Swelling with gorgeous melodies and consuming depth, To Walk Beside That Ghost marks an unforgettable entrance for Racing Heart.
To an extent, I’ve always felt like indie albums were measured by their ability to defy convention. As a member of what was once a select community, if you could take an idea and make it rougher around the edges – weirder
– without crossing the line into complete hysteria, you were the envy of your competition. Just look at the way bands such as The Microphones, Animal Collective, and Broken Social Scene made unique imprints over the past decade. It wasn’t just that their music satisfied some vague definition by which the genre adheres to, they actually blazed a path that nobody else could follow. Something that was relatively inaccessible, very interesting sounding, and most importantly, theirs
. I think “indie” has become a kind of umbrella term recently, frequently used to describe any artist that wields an acoustic guitar or seems halfway genuine. As bands everywhere strive to become 2012’s Mumford & Sons, or to craft the ideal song for a touching movie scene, the pool of those not
feigning genuineness seems to dwindle by the day. It’s almost as if, in a way, being genuine isn’t even genuine anymore. Now it takes a truly unique idea, or an old idea put in an entirely new perspective, to truly capture people’s attention. That’s where Racing Heart steps in, with a debut in To Walk Beside That Ghost
that may not be a trailblazer, but is wholeheartedly authentic enough to distinguish Racing Heart as a band worth watching in the future and worth enjoying right now.
I’m not saying that this is a generation defining album, or that it pioneers never-before-heard musical territory, but To Walk Beside That Ghost
is quite simply the answer to everything that this new breed of mainstream indie bands has been missing. It is tangibly emotional – not manufactured emotion, but raw and candid. Its approach never feels strained, but instead flourishes through Mathias Tjonn’s Thom Yorke-meets-Win Butler style of vocals. There is nary a weak song on the album, as even the shortest tracks play a key role in orchestrating the album’s impeccable flow. ‘Et Onske, et Hap’, for example, passes by rather inconspicuously with a vocals-only, lyrically trim (title is chanted repeatedly) performance, but it serves as the perfect bridge between ‘The War’ and ‘Emma’ – two cornerstones on an album filled with gems. The prior may be one of the best songs of the year so far, dwelling in a mysterious atmosphere of acoustic picking, strings, and tremendously varied vocals from the band’s multi-talented frontman. The lyrics are also noteworthy here, as they are throughout the entire record’s span, offering up lines such as, “There’s a hole in your heart where the love seeps in, there’s a hole in my heart where it all flows out.” Perhaps the most impressive moment on paper comes in ‘Emma’, in which Tjonn professes, “Where our language lacks words, that empty space is yours.” In an album overflowing with emotive, relationship-based poetry, the line still manages to stand out as an example of Tjonn’s potential heights.
The majority of To Walk Beside That Ghost
masters the balance between slow-burning ballads and mid-tempo songs, and in that way it was never intended to be an upbeat album. That’s okay though, because despite its noticeable fixation on one approach to pace, there is never a moment of ill-conceived redundancy. Even though the record is stripped down to its bare bones in terms of production, there is still a plethora of instrumental variety that is utilized far enough apart and in enough moderation to highlight the qualities of each track. ‘This Pretty Mistake’ opens thing sup with just an acoustic guitar, but the song (as with much of the album) is driven by the strength of Tjonn’s vocals. ‘Turn Around’ features a string/horn combination during the outro that lends the album a sense of elegance at just the right time, immediately before its transition into the piano-heavy ‘Photos.’ It is this kind of fluency that underscores Racing Heart’s entire debut, as the sensation of fluidity/smoothness continues throughout the woodwinds in ‘Words for the Ones We Lost’, the audible bass and swelling middle verse of ‘The War’, and the electronic keyboarding and chimes that send To Walk Beside That Ghost
out in a truly eclectic fashion.
Racing Heart has crafted a superb debut. It sets a thoughtful mood from the start with its gentle pace and poignant lyrics, and only improves as time goes on. Instrumentally it may be rather simple, but it is also pulls from an extremely diverse palette. Mathias Tjonn, the brainchild of Racing Heart, is clearly the most recognizable source of skill here, and he uses the threadbare foundation of the music as a vessel to exercise his talents. It all adds up to one very rewarding listen, and considering how young Racing Heart is as a band, there is no telling where its ceiling will end.