Release Date: April 2011
Buy at your local independent record store or on iTunes
There’s a reason Holy Ghost! were asked to spin at First Avenue’s famous Saturday night dance party, Too Much Love, after their Minneapolis show with Cut Copy. Made up of childhood friends Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser, who got their start using their enormous synth collection to remix bands like MGMT and Moby, the Brooklyn band played their first live shows on tour with LCD Soundsystem. So it’s only fitting that they would guest DJ where James Murphy spun after his own show in Minneapolis. Like LCD Soundsystem, Holy Ghost! know how to arrange a perfect dance song. They’ve recaptured the essence of disco and made it palatable for today’s audience by mixing it with contemporary techno and electronica—at times you can even hear Tom Tom Club and other New Wave bands—for a tight, cohesive self-titled debut. While the consistency between songs makes for a pleasing listening experience, the album would be better if Holy Ghost! challenged themselves a little more by constructing a song that pushed the boundaries rhythmically and lyrically.
One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Hold On,” starts out almost exactly the same as the disco hit “Ten Percent,” which came out on Salsoul Records in the 1960s. Both “Ten Percent” and “Hold On” start off with a steady drum machine beat and handclaps. While “Ten Percent” veers off into the disco we all know and love, with horns and wa-wa pedals, “Hold On” introduces echoing, creepy synths and rumbling bass. But just when you think we’ve left Austin Powers behind, Holy Ghost! add octave-jumping disco keyboards during the chorus. The beginnings of all their songs, in fact, start out like disco songs. “Wait and See” begins with the same Twilight Zone keyboards as the Scissor Sisters’ interpretation of Roxy Music’s 1973 hit “Do the Strand”. That cover sounds more like it’s from the ’70s than the original, and a lot of Holy Ghost!’s songs come across the same way. And by using well-timed synth hits and cacophonous “Oh! A-oh a-oh!”s, Holy Ghost! often sounds more groovy than disco’s originators. By sounding similar to disco originators, Holy Ghost! demonstrate their skill at re-appropriating that era’s music for a new audience; however, it displays lack of ingenuity. Sonic trends can only be recycled so much.
The next track, “Hold My Breath” sounds like a boy band hit from the mid-’90s; in fact, it’s almost a faster version of the hit “Faded” by Soul Decision (am I dating myself?). “Hold My Breath” introduces buzzing, raw guitars before background videogame synths kick in. The teasing beginning logically segues into a song that definitely feels like a guilty pleasure. “Say My Name” (an invariable reminder of Destiny’s Child) also starts slow before introducing galloping synths and twinkling keyboards. The breathy, mid-tempo comes at a good point in the middle of the album, reminding the listener that Holy Ghost! knows how to work with the sexier, less dance-driven facets of disco. “Jam for Jerry,” carries a bouncy rhythm but vacuous lyrics. “You check the mirror, lock the door / You took the stairs downstairs from the third floor / You thought about her as you walked,” he sings. I had to listen to the song a lot before I remembered the lyrics enough to write them here, which doesn’t say much about their staying power. The premise of the song—Alex Frankel sings about a DJ, which could be him—suggests the band’s self-awareness, which is something to think about. And Holy Ghost! use some interesting lyrical devices. On “Some Children,” soulful guest vocalist Michael McDonald croons, “You don’t hear when I’m talking / You don’t hear what I’m saying.” While redundant, it implies paranoia and desperation; especially since it uses a new singer. It’s like Finkel and Millhiser suspect their audience has already stopped listening to their words and moved on to the next Brooklyn buzz band.
Ultimately, the album suffers from its lack of depth. This collection of songs is fun to listen to while working out or getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, but that’s about it. There’s no experimental track that you skip over because it sounds weird only to come back to it and realize that it’s actually amazing. It is true that Holy Ghost!’s grasp on elements of successful disco is remarkable, given that they grew up and started making music after its time had come and gone. The band’s successful synthesis of disco and electronica especially comes across on their first single, the hard-hitting “It’s Not Over.” Underwater, echoing synths and the soaring chorus come at the perfect place three-fourths of the way through the album, reminding the listener, “Tapes get older / Tapes, they get slower / Hold me closer / It’s not over.” The music that defined disco and heavily inspired Holy Ghost! might be getting older (and maybe slower), but it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, this strict adherence to disco rhythm and instrumentation makes all the tracks on Holy Ghost! sound a little too similar to one another.
-Harley Brown | email@example.com