Radical Face - Ghost

George Bass 07/02/2007

Rating: 5/5

Ben Cooper doesn't seem to have much luck with his names, does he. Seemingly Christened in honour of a semi-professional snooker player, it's perhaps understandable that his choice of musical monikers imply the bastsardised crossbreed of an early-nineties playground tag and Patrick Swayze acting. But what's in a name? Not too much, by the sound of the compositions he's just recently hatched. With a leg-up from his old Electric President mucker Alex Kane, he's put out the first record to vie for the meekest position on the Best Album 2007 starting grid. Ghost was apparently recorded entirely in isolation, holed up in a shedlike Florida stockade until each piece had been fleshed out, and upon listening it's obvious that Mr Face has channeled an A-Team's worth of graft into the three-quarters of an hour of music prepared for us here.

In terms of context, Ghost might be as rich as a Marks & Sparks luxury Christmas pudding, but the songwriting never congeals into anything that borders on trite, regardless of what mood Cooper is trying to convey. Welcome Home strums along like a blue-collar distillation of James Horner's soaring Rocketeer theme, resplendent in lo-fi pomp, whereas Along The Road is heartbreakingly bleak, all ship-timber creaks and bleating ukuleles that build to a sanguine violin monologue. If you caught a glimpse of what the Electric Presidents could do when they licensed one of their tracks for an OC season finale, you'll need goggles to take this album in in one sitting, trust me. Lyrically, there's a recurring theme that binds the songs into a loose-knit whole: the theory that houses inherit the ghosts of their residents, memories magnetically recorded over each other like discovering a buried fragment of The Krypton Factor at the end of your old Cup Final betamax. It's certainly original enough to net the album a concept nomination, and Cooper's voice is sufficiently distinctive to handle his stories about cremation and ectoplasm without accidentally tweaking the reactionary nerve. His particular delivery may be more reedy than Billy Corgan in a pair of waders but he's well aware of the difference between inspiration and mimicry, and blends his vocals into the acoustics with near irresistible results. Even the most fishfaced of all mopers would be hard pushed to not nod to Glory, which chugs along like Sigur Ros' Samskeyti rewritten for a beer garden knees-up. On the other hand, it's a mark of Radical Face's non-conformance to the indulgences of post-rock formulae that he closes up not with the sprawling Enyaface chagrin of Sleepwalking, but instead with Homesick, a stripped-down piece of percussionless country sprinkled in ambient noise.

It's difficult to put into sentences how likable this album is. If you want to see how guitar-orientated pop music has matured over the last fifteen years, you'd be stitching yourself up if you didn't at least download some of the tracks from this CD. With the friskiness of Akron/Family and the grass roots optimism of Explosions In The Sky, Ghost is undoubtedly the first essential record of the year. Dip into it and you can smell the positive power of perseverance, but let it wash over you in one whack and you'll experience a project that flows as cohesively as a folkier OK Computer translated into post-rock, with science fiction fancy in place of graduate angst