Ghost Mice formed from the ashes of Operation: Cliff Clavin, The Devil is Electric, and Disarm in 2002. The band was formed by Plan-It-X owner, Chris Clavin and his good friend Hannah Jones. Chris plays guitar and in his own words "attempts to play harmonica too" and Hannah picks up the violin. Both share vocal duties, with Chris' voice being more prominent than Hannah's. The band plays 100% acoustically, even when playing live and have admitted to only using microphones and amplification once at one of Plan-it-X Fests.
This album is really an EP, their debut in fact. It was released in 2002 on a CDR and was offered on the Plan-It-X website for $5, postage paid, just like every other CD release on the label. The album is no longer available for order, but the mp3s have made their rounds with no complaints from either party. (Sources tell me Chris makes appearances on Soulseek, but I haven't had any proof)
Anyway, on to the album. This album is short, of course it's an EP. It's also bad quality, but again it's an EP made by a DIY punk band. But all 21 minutes are filled with inspirational acoustic folk tunes.
The songs on this EP fall into one of two categories, to deliver an inspirational message about teamwork and change or to tell a story, usually fictional and usually with a moral. Some songs cross over into each category though.
The album starts and ends with songs of the first category. "The Lost City" is about turning an old concrete covered city back into it's lush forest beginnings through teamwork of hippies, punks, and all.
The closing song is "Cancer or Carwreck", a song originally recorded by The Devil is Electric and my personal favorite from all Chris/Hannah bands. It is a song offering the choice of the two ways to die, either "die slow from all the chemicals in all the *** you eat, drink and breath" or "die in your seat, behind the wheel and on your way to work." This song offers considerable vocal work from Hannah, which really gives you the chance to hear her unique vocal style. Neither of them are incredibly gifted singers, but both have singing styles that are perfect for the type of message they are trying to get across. This song really showcases this as they trade off verses, Hannah singing about the carwreck and Chris singing about the cancer. The ultimate message here is the reluctance for our society to change lifestyles even with the threat of death.
"The Devil and My Family" is the finest example of Ghost Mice story telling, and one of my favorites within the second category of songs on this album. Like "Cancer and Carwreck", this song was originally recorded by The Devil is Electric. This song is the first appearance of Chris and his harmonica playing, and his personal put downs aren't really justified as he is a perfectly fine harmonica player. The playing in this song is especially great because it feels as if the harmonica and violin have a conversation at the end of choruses. The ending line of this song will also be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. "And the Devil sang with me, and the devil sang with me"
"One Law World", "Bloomington, IN" and "Big Picture" are the other songs on the EP that follow the scheme of delivering important messages and commentary on the world. The first being about the ridiculously amount of laws and their overall uselessness if we could just learn respect for everyone and everything. The song also contains some really catchy guitar playing from Chris. The second tells of the hometown of Plan-It-X, describing it as an "island in the middle of the sea, filled with punks and sharks who like to eat people like me" The two tell of how great the city is for them, telling of the joys of riding bikes to punk rock shows with friends and the overall close knit community the city offers. And the last song in this category is the obligatory punk critique of corporations. Though that sounds cynical, Ghost Mice avoid being too boring, but that may be a little spark of fanboyism inside me. The song relies heavily on the simultaneous singing of the two, but Chris takes control of singing as he does on a lot of songs. The overall message here is the obvious message of avoiding the corporate brainwashing that's in the world.
Two more songs fit into the second category of telling a story, those are "Monsters Get Slain" and "Cemetery". The first is the longest song on the album, clocking in at almost 5 minutes. The beginning lines lay out the story of a boy who was killed by medication that was prescribed to him. I'm not sure of it's based on truth or not, knowing folk and country's love of near truth storytelling, but also knowing punk's ability to use tribute songs. The lyrics tell the life story of the boy who was mentally challenged or diseased in some way and his improvements in life because of medication, but an inevitable break down and finally death. The final story telling song crosses a bit into the message category, as it talks of death and the fear of leaving because of it. What stands out really on this song is the music, Chris utilizes finger picking with his guitar and Hannah's violin is full of mourning and emotion. Hannah's voice is very sparse in this song, and Chris solitary singing really adds to the overall sad emotion of the song.
This album shows what Ghost Mice are capable of and is a great debut leading to two more great albums (a new one coming soon). Ghost Mice are the
folk-punk band to check out for a wide range of positivity, emotionality and DIY ethics.