Ghost Culture (the moniker of British born musician James Greenwood) is the electronica artist we’ve been waiting years for. His self- titled debut album is an intelligent, dark, brooding work of art that never once becomes pretentious or distancing: this is dance music for the anti-social bunch of us that don’t usually dance.
Album opener Arms showcases Greenwood’s strong understanding of what good electronica should do: it’s musically ambitious and dense, but, buoyed by a catchy pop hook, it never topples over into ‘is that the sound of a dial up modem committing suicide?’ territory.
Surprisingly for an electronica musician these days, Greenwood has also been blessed by a golden voice, and he knows how to use his vocals to maximum effect. Arms and Guidecca for example, are tipped into a whole new realm of brilliance by Greenwood’s hushed, understated vocal delivery. He sings like a man who knows more than he’s letting on, and there is something hypnotic about his essential mystery, not to mention the powerful distance between his melodies and his soothing tones. Glacier makes full use of the man’s voice: like a lullaby for the broken hearted it is at once gentle and dark, and one of the album’s many successes.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact tone of some of Ghost Culture’s tracks, but this emotional ambiguity adds to the album rather than detracts it. Songs like Lucky and How balance an upbeat sonic innocence with a brooding sense of melancholia and a vague, unnameable threat – there is something that feels oddly dangerous to the insistent repetition of the phrase ‘lucky’ in the former, for example. The album’s beauty sits very close to darkness, ensuring that the proceedings are weighty without ever being mopey.
There is what could only be described as a cleanliness to the music too: the whole album is carried off with a surgical precision, and tracks like Mouth and Lying have a calculated, impressively cool tone to them. They are like exhibits of human organs, sealed in jars, floating in fluid: clean, fascinating, and oddly beautiful.
Album closer The Fog is a fitting conclusion to an album of gentle, threatening beauty: understated in the best possible sense of the word, with insistent melodies that are designed to elevate, and do.
Ghost Culture has already been deemed ‘one to watch’, but such understated platitudes don’t truly express Greenwood’s considerable talents and skills. Ghost Culture feels like he should have been ‘one to watch’ years ago: Greenwood has already snuck in and dropped a masterpiece while nobody was looking.