Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Modern Horses - Extra Happy Ghost!!!

Modern Horses

Extra Happy Ghost!!!
Saved By Radio/Saved By Vinyl Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

As 2009 embraced the grey shapelessness of a dim November, I became invested in Extra Happy Ghost!!!’s one-man fantasy project. The EP was titled How the Beach Boys Sound To Those With No Feelings and its bipolar mood, its battered psychedelia, conspired to form a twisted mood that kept me company those dreary days. As its title suggested, songwriting Matthew Swann was after a particular type of gloom, something largely uncharted amid this generation’s influx of laptop-addled mopers. Swann wanted to lay all of his numbness, boredom and introverted inspirations on the table, backed by a stark assortment of lurching effects and negative space. Turns out Chad VanGaalen was also a fan of that EP's about-face, as he's joined forces with Extra Happy Ghost!!! for Modern Horses.

Now some of you are no doubt still reading for the sake of summing up Chad VanGaalen’s handiwork. Yes, the man from Yoko Eno Studio manages the dual task of finding an ideal sonic swamp for Swann to dwell in without, you know, having it sound like Women. But championing VanGaalen’s production ultimately proves complimentary to Extra Happy Ghost!!!, since Modern Horses mostly refines Swann’s established sound. Make no mistake: the smoother production still suspends us over chasm-esque depths without completely abandoning Extra Happy Ghost!!!’s lo-fi origins. But the focus here remains unequivocally on Swann’s disaffected songwriting, the same voice that toiled between styles so convincingly on How the Beach Boys Sound To Those With No Feelings.

Modern Horses not only finds Swann ironing out his EQ levels but fully indulging each songwriting whim as well. Gone are the fragmented hooks and experimental clouds of noise that would amble comfortably before dissolving a minute-and-a-half later; here Extra Happy Ghost!!!’s sneakiness doesn’t belie the bigger picture. Both ‘Mercy Mercy’ and ‘Fire On Fire’ showcase the rigidity of Swann’s riffs, not to mention the surrounding instrumentation that grows restless over time. Sometimes that edginess boils over into free-form noise (like the bleeding organs that blare over ‘Pitiful’); otherwise it curls into the melancholy groove of ‘Feed Wolves Luck’ like reverberations of a cocoon – safe and impenetrable. Modern Horses’ mesmeric qualities sustain it through pockets of self-abuse (namely the cabin-fever of ‘J23439’) and reward listeners whose idea of mood-music doesn’t hinge on expensive synthesizers. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more honest indie-rock record this year.

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