Sound — 5
"Ghost On Ghost" is the fifth studio album from Iron & Wine, the recording name of folk guitarist Sam Beam. This album is purportedly experimental by Mead's standards, veering into some R&B territory as well as some Jazz brought in by drummer Brian Blade. My very first impression from "Ghost On Ghost" was that the music is the direct antithesis of the iron composition that the artist and album's names indicate, an irony I felt was too blatant to ignore even if it was expected. Another early impression is that this folk album refrains from using the guitar as the instrument of choice in many, maybe most, scenarios. It seems to find its string plucking too harsh for the album's purpose. This album is as laid back as any album could be. To elaborate, the music is serious but when I turn on the album, it has the immediate effect of slowing down my heartbeat. Every previous feeling of mine is turned to a melancholy-like calmness. The vocals gently caress the music as well as my body. Soft is an understatement for the majority of "Ghost On Ghost". While this album evokes different feelings inside the body, quiet and laid back are the two phrases that summarize them. Horns and a saxophone dominate the rare instrumental sections of the album while fun bass lines and other tones are present under the almost hazy vocals. In reality, the only real interest I had when the songs were passing was guessing what type and extent of percussion Iron and Wine would use as I noticed a few novelty percussion instruments along the way. That's not to say the album is boring, it just seems that piquing my musical sense is not important on "Ghost On Ghost". It's not even that the album lacks a sense of musicality, it's just that it seems to encourage me to avoid it and not give it standing while listening. It more focuses on creating an ambient vibe with vocal harmonies and novelty instruments that flash in and out for a few seconds. This concept is fairly new to me, but this album doesn't excite me at all except in rare cases. I know that this is not the objective of the album, but I wish it was. As I've alluded to before, this album contains an innate sense of musicality, it just doesn't flaunt it, an appearance that almost degrades it in a way. At the very least, the musicality is less noticeable. The best song, in my opinion, would be "Singers And The Endless Song". Vocally, this song has the strongest melody on the album. Musically, a tickling bass line rides underneath the vocals and horns and the pre-chorus is probably the most exciting part of the album. Other than that, "Sundown (Back In The Briars)" is the driving force behind my impressions at the beginning of this review and "Low Light Buddy Of Mine" has a great little sax instrumental section near the end, one of the few on the album, as I have mentioned.
Lyrics — 7
The vocals are the focus of the album. While the vocal delivery remains similar throughout, the intermittent harmonies keep it interesting and to be honest, it is a pretty good vibe to begin with. I could fall asleep to the vocals, and I mean that in a good way. Sam Beam does an excellent job of knowing when to lay back and when to attack, though his attacks are subtle. Again, though less than the rest of this album, the vocals become an overblown sensation the listener's mind after a while, so take my previous assessment with a grain of salt. Lyrically, I could be taking a huge leap, but I think this is a concept album. But let's put it like this, Sam Beam does not encourage me to stick around long enough to ponder what the story actually is. Here is a sampling of the lyrics from "Baby Center Stage", some of the best on the album, I thought: "Doesn't anybody see how scared you are? There was a time I was running you down But the world kept spinning round Doesn't anybody see how scared you are? There was a time you were running to me But the hurricane had mercy In your restless days All that wind, all those waves In your restless nights We closed our eyes, Killed each other and came to life In your restless days I made my bed, I dug my grave In your restless nights We both swam blind, Somehow falling into the light." Make of these lyrics what you will because I think it will strike others somewhat differently than it struck me.
Overall Impression — 5
To be honest, the longer I listen to this album, the less interesting it gets because there is no real hook per se to reel me in and keep me there. My first impressions of the album were the best. From that I found the album's strength; the ability to take a person from any situation and calm them down. As I mentioned before, any song on this album, fast or slow, just slows down the listener's heart beat and puts a nice little cover over the day, just enough to pay heed and listen to the album. The problem is that once I get over this sense, the true music really does not hold me in, encourage me to stay, or impress me all that much. From the perspective of Iron & Wine, the recording name of Sam Beam, I do not think that this is a disappointing record; it just struck me individually as one. In the end, this album is worth this listening to because the initial draw may hold any of you in longer than it did for me as you will likely find an odd type of extraneous characteristic that encourages you to stay with this daze/haze.