Sound: What is sublimity? It is the feeling of absolute excellence of superior value. Devin Townsend is often called a genius of our times and for good reason: His last two albums, "Deconstruction" and "Ghost", represent the extremes of what one person can do, coupled with the other two parts of the four album release ("Ki" and "Addicted"), you have an album of proggy blues rock ("Ki"), anxious and unsurprisingly addictive "future metal" ("Addicted"), utterly chaotic and punishing symphonic metal ("Deconstruction") and that leads us on to an album of serene, relaxed and atmospheric music: "Ghost".
Right from the 5 note riff with the beginning of "Fly", you're already drawn into a slow, simple and relaxing journey over the mountains. The subtle electronics and ambient use of flute, pan-pipes and acoustic guitar already makes the album distinctive, with Devin's unappreciated soothingly calm vocals floating over the harmonically and melodically rich material.
The album grows in the same way as Post-rock, starting off light and easy, slowly adding noticeable bass lines, louder and louder drums, but never letting go of the heavily layered synth/guitar/flute basis that is present for the entire album. It grows and adds to movements, with the "climactic" bit being the 9 minute "Texada", which at first seems like the them music for a disturbing post-apocalyptic children's TV advert. But it too grows and spreads into a hypnotic and almost heavy sort of sound, the guitars are so heavily layered that its almost like a fist pounder off "Addicted". And it repeats this gradual build up of rhythmic guitar and incredibly beautiful vocal/electronic overlays, even having a few moments that wouldn't sound out of place in SYL (think "Two Weeks").
The main genre of Ghost is not easy to identify with most simply leaving it at "ambient", which is definitely a trait of "Ghost", but there is much influence from his past work (he cross references himself a fair bit in this album), some of the influence from the artists he worked with on "Deconstruction" (Opeth and Cynic have left their marks on here, from the bluesy toned guitar leads to the early verses in "Feather" having a "Traced In Air" feel) and also influences from world music (ie, native instruments, sounds etc.), country rock (such as on "Blackberry" and the title track having a Dolly Parton weirdness about it) and modern post rock.
His production style has come into its own on this album, with many producers content to have dry, one tracked instruments with a smidgen of reverb as "ambient", Devin layers it on like delicious cake mix: Heavy use of breezy, subtle and "soundless" (They way I describe that is, you can tell a synth choir is a synth choir because it sounds like a choir, but the synths used here don't have a "sound" as such, its just beautiful notes through a well manipulated signal) electronics, light and easy to follow drum patterns, some real, some from Ableton, densely layered and hypnotic guitar rhythms and heavily layered vocal lines with masses of reverb added to everything. // 10
Lyrics: Devin is perhaps known best for his voice, which started his career way back in the early 90's as singer for Steve Vai. But his work during that time has mostly seen the use of his higher end, psuedo-opera vocals and they've only grown more eccentric over time, along with Devin himself ("Deconstruction" had vocal lines that sounded like they were from a soprano and not Devin, but the thing is, they WERE Devin, so you can understand how powerful his voice is).
But on "Ghost", he takes a much more mellower route than normal, dropping his octave range a bit and dropping harsh vocals altogether (which is a no brainer, really, on an ambient album). His simple vocal lines and lyrics aren't made to make you think on "Ghost" as they would on any other album he's done, you're just meant to soak in the sound and relax. But lyrically he still has that knack for making simple words have a complex meaning behind them. Considering the softness of the album, they are more abstract and thought provoking than you might realise. For instance, the title track:
"How about a body at moonlight
How about a body at home
How about a body at moonlight,
How our body's alone
I don't want to bother your moonlight
I don't want to bother your soul
I don't want to bother your moonlight
How our body's alone." // 9
Overall Impression: "Ghost" is its own realm of musicality, having its own Devinized sound and surreal serenity. The album flows amazingly well, with each song leading into the other seamlessly and if you have the CD on repeat, the last track "As You Were" leads straight back into the opening of "Fly", so the album sounds never ending.
"Ghost" is one of the best albums I've ever heard, because there's a distinct lack of calming and relaxing ambient music being brought to spotlight attention. Aside from God Is An Astronaut and Jesu, there's not much going in terms of easily available ambient tunes, so "Ghost" is refreshing in that respect.
Songs to look out for: The entire album. Literally, I cannot think of a bad song on this album. // 9