Andy McCluskey is the singer-bassist in the pioneering British electronic pop group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, also known as OMD. Their song “Enola Gay” is a synth-pop classic, and “If You Leave,” from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, hit #4 in the U.S. in 1986. Their latest album is English Electric. McCluskey also co-wrote songs for Atomic Kitten, who scored a #1 UK hit in 2001 with “Whole Again.” You can follow OMD on Twitter here and on Facebookhere.
In this postmodern world it is increasingly difficult to create a distinctive and individual sound without disappearing into willful musical obscurity or serving up some unpalatable rehash of incompatible styles. So congratulations must be offered to Glass Ghost. Their choice of instrumental palette is simple and truly distinctive. Michael Johnson’s live drumming provides the pulse, Eliot Krimsky’s distinctive falsetto voice is the focus while his good old electric piano paddles through the middle distance, and a selection of vocal samples often build to a swirling crescendo. Sounds minimal? It is. OK, there is an occasional use of other sounds, but they are sprinkled sparingly across the surface like random cake ornaments. The basic fare satisfies completely. The ultimate effect is far from basic.
I have really cherished listening to Glass Ghost’s new album LYFE but that much would be obvious simply by virtue of the fact that I have chosen to write about it: I only review things that resonate positively with me.
I am so very impressed by just how many times the band can repeat the same formula of beginning a song softly, expressing a wistful sentiment with minimal instrumentation and then gradually, almost imperceptibly, building to a cascading torrent of sound.
The track “Life Is for the Living” seems to effortlessly convey the essential dichotomy of daily repetition set against the intellectualized gloss of thought transcending the mundane (as expressed in the gorgeous whisps and swirls of female vocals). Please don’t throw me into “Pseud’s Corner” for this interpretation — I really get this impression! Surely, it’s a wonderful gift for a song to transport the listener into an imagined landscape. The relentlessly busy electric piano phrase (reminiscent of the Peanuts cartoon riff), a syncopated drum pattern, and the use of crunchy vocal samples create a nagging domestic clatter. The ethereal female vocals hint at distraction and finally fling this listener into a gorgeously imagined hedonistic tumble. I love this song!
The choral work is repeated to equally astonishing effect at the end of “Triangle.” I am reminded of the very best religious choir and plainchant music which, despite my atheism, can deliver passion and beauty into my soul. The human voice is the most evocative instrument and Glass Ghost’s sensuous deployment of vocal samples and female singing, combined with Eliot Krimsky’s fragile delivery, is as powerful as I have recently heard.
A quick mention of further beauty in the vocal samples of “Body-Loss,” the gentle woodwind in “Walls” and the funereal roll of drums, punching brass phrases and screaming high-pitched synth or string wailing, whose arrival in “American Dollar” transforms a suppressed, dreamy linear introduction into a searing requiem driven to crescendo at a stumbling march!
I must resist any further specifics regarding individual tracks. I encourage the listener to allow this album to lead them on their own personal journey without my thoughts colouring their destination.
Two overall aspects of this music must be mentioned, as much for my appreciation as for my failure to understand how Glass Ghost have achieved the effect. Throughout this album Krimsky’s vocal manages an interesting double role by barely ever registering dynamic change. Delicately brave personal reflection often becomes suspended straight-man commentary by the end of a song, acting as a foil to exaggerate the boiling music underneath. I bet even he doesn’t know how he does it. I hope that he never tries to analyse it — he may lose it through understanding.
Johnson’s drumming never fails to rise to the occasion as each track builds to its dynamic climax. Since I am assuming that the tracks are built through cumulated programming and playing, I don’t know how this is achieved. Perhaps the songs are so scrupulously planned ahead that the dynamic is prewritten. Alternatively, the tracks may be constructed to a simple pattern and the drums laid in after the framework is concluded. Either way, it’s a formidable accomplishment. Or maybe there is another method. Please tell me!
I do actually have one criticism of the album, but it’s born of deprivation rather than lack of love for any of the gifts contained in this release. “Bright Circumstance” is the best verse lyric melody of all the songs, however, it’s available only as a bonus track on the digital version of the album. Strange! Were the band ashamed of the recording’s use of what sounds like “clichéd” acoustic guitar plucking? I suspect it’s actually a clavinet arpeggio and chords masquerading as that six-stringed instrument of almost terminal tedium. The outro of this track is also the sexiest harmonic variation of a repeated single word that you could ever imagine. And the other bonus track, “Heart Is My Own,” contains a beautiful and completely enchanting out-of-tune verse vocal that would not be as touching if it were “perfect.” You really should hear these songs as part of the album.
LYFE is topped and tailed by two glorious short crescendos of those wonderful vocal and choral samples. They mark our entrance into, and our departure from, its rich tapestry. If only real lives were able to be bookended by such beauty.