Review Summary: “Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer."
I’m writing this at night. Alone, on a couch in a house by the water, windows on either side that are little more than vacant stares of an outside that is hushed and cold. The only light is this interminable speck on the water, the crimson tip of a buoy that blinks idiotically and perpetually, on just enough of an odd beat to make me notice when it steps out of line and granted a hazy enough cast by the opaque windows to create an eminently annoying effect. The buoy is really my worst enemy, unpredictable and implacable, blurry and bright. It’s not the cool or the quiet; the room is chilly and creaky and this blanket I’m covered with is horribly thatchy, yet I’m nevertheless content without being entirely comfortable. Heavy Ghost
is a uniquely claustrophobic record - in its hauntingly repetitive minor-key piano chords, horror-movie undertones and Thom Yorke-approved wailings, it is a subversion of Asthmatic Kitty’s chamber-pop aesthetic, Sufjan in negative. It is the perfect evening record, but not the kind that goes softly into a gentle night. It’d rather be the buoy in the bay, that bit of dissonance in an otherwise finely woven album of bitter indie folk, distorted by impeccable goth craftsmanship and an experimental bent that is simultaneously terribly distorted and incredibly beautiful.
For a debut, Heavy Ghost
is remarkably confident of where it wants to go – down, and deep. David Stith had the genesis of these ideas while helping to record a My Brightest Diamond record, and Shara Worden’s orchestral tendencies show up here, as does his family’s own strong musical background. Heavy Ghost
is a densely layered album, with a liberal use of strings and horns, lap steel and electronics on top of a latticework of piano and tribal drum patterns. There are no simple cadences here; melodies and harmonies wrap around whole scales, complex and at times disturbing, whether it be in the sinister backing vocals of “Creekmouth” or the jagged yelps of “Spirit Parade.” Stith’s careful work layering his voice into his own ghostly backing chorus provides much of Heavy Ghost’s
most intricate and rewarding moments, at times gloriously simple (the airy refrain of “Morning Glory Cloud”), at others elaborate and confused (consider the eerie echo chamber that “Pigs” becomes). This is not exactly easy listening – Heavy Ghost
exists in something of a tortured realm, all minor key elegies and adventurous layers of sound that fold in on themselves like the void at the center of House of Leaves
. For most of the record, the walls feel less like they’re falling down and more like they’re closing in.
It’s not until “Fire of Birds” that something resembling sunlight peeks through, Stith’s tender falsetto finally exploding upwards with the clattering swell of the percussion and the strings into a strangely triumphant lyrical smile. It’s the essential release in a record teeming with meticulously arranged tension, and it performs its job as admirably as the rest of Heavy Ghost
does in exploring all the shadows of the studio and the soul. The record itself ends unresolved, split between hope and the dark on “Braid of Voices” and lost in a coarse rush of abrasive strings and synths and a barely-there vocal on “Wig.” Heavy Ghost
finishes with just as many questions as answers, but the end result is neither as important nor as compelling as the process itself. Foremost among those questions is Stith’s lack of a follow-up, yet it’s easy to see just how emotionally draining such an album might be. Perhaps it’s fitting this way; after all, Heavy Ghost
is the sound of impermanence, something that never settles and never seems to know where it’s going to end. As ethereal and skilled as it is, it very much lends Heavy Ghost
an air of timelessness.