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Ghost Heart releases debut LP at Founders this Saturday

Underwriting support from:

Ghost Heart record release show

Time and date: 9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29

Place: Founders Brewing Company (235 Grandville SW)

With special guests: Heavier than Air Flying Machines, Ghost Lady and Radiator Hospital

More information

/All photos courtesy of Ghost Heart

I have a preferred context for listening to most albums. It's not a set-in-stone thing but, for example, Metallica's Kill 'Em All is best listened to while driving on the highway. It just is. Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala is a walking album best suited to the spring. "Album" is a bit of a misnomer though. While most of what I buy is big vinyl discs, the majority of the music I hear daily comes from files decoded by my cell phone or laptop. The portability of digitized music has made it easy for me to soundtrack my whole life yet I often feel something is missing. It's like I am flittering from one musical one-night-stand to another. I listen to 30 minutes of an album while I look up stuff on Wikipedia. Ten minutes to another as I drive to the gym. Sometimes I just want a real relationship with a record that is worth a little effort getting to know it. Sometimes I want a headphone album. Luckily for me the The Tunnel by Grand Rapids indie-rock four-piece Ghost Heart is just that, and it's being released this week by Friction Records.

The Tunnel is my first headphone album of 2011 for two reasons. First, the way the album was performed, recorded (to two-inch tape!) and sequenced, it buzzes with life and flows well from end to end. It's one of two records I've heard from a Grand Rapids bands recently produced in a way that enhances the musical raw material rather than filing down its edges (the other being Charles the Osprey's 2010 album Consider) The second reason is lead vocalist Tim Broderick's lyrics and voice are just so damned powerful. His words are tender, whether he is singing about loss or hope, and his voice has a power - at different moments - reminiscent of Ben Gibbard of Deathcab for Cutie (the early stuff), Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and Win Butler of Arcade Fire. Throughout the album Broderick uses intimate pronouns talking to someone who is undefined but always present. Perhaps this doesn't just feel personal and intimate, maybe there is a flesh and blood story to go along with the metaphorical one. Ultimately it doesn't really matter; these guys make it feel true whether or not it is real.

Explaining what Ghost Heart sounds like to a friend is a bit of a challenge. "They are like Animal Collective but not all drugged out, and I can actually understand what they are saying" is a good start. Add in "and they have the emotional bombast of The Walkmen," and you'd be a little closer. Their sound is difficult to pin down because these guys have crafted an exciting musical alloy of disparate sounds that is also intimate and vulnerable. All four members (Troy Reimink, Cedric Cañero, Justin Gray and Broderick) play indie-tribal percussion and sing in bursts and waves of harmony that provide the skeleton for most of the tracks on The Tunnel. Those bones are fleshed out with post-rock pretty/precise riffs courtesy of Reimink, Cañero and Gray's as well as washes of reverbed, shoegaze guitar reminiscent of Ride. In addition to vocals, Broderick adds electronic flourishes to the mix that remind me of Neu! or Faust. They have made a unique record that no music-geek-connect-the-influence-dots is going to sum up. This record is - more than anything - an album that begs to be listened to over and over again to fully appreciate all the little bones that help it move.

The Tunnel begins with a single looped keyboard sample, pulsing for a few moments when - gradually - threads of Sigur Ros like vocal textures, hypnotic guitar patterns and Broderick's soaring tenor weave themselves in. After about three minutes a wave of guitar noise ushers in the first booms and cracks of percussion and the track "Phantom Harmony" grows to an entrancingly triumphant peak. Then it breaks, flowing seamlessly into track number two, "No Canticle." Here, the percussion starts after a short build and sounds like the warm-up of a tribal marching band drumline. It's not easy to make out each of Broderick's words, but there is an air of lurking shadows on the periphery. The tone thus far is warm and rather upbeat, but the apparitions start to close in by tracks three and four. The haunting instrumental "Wherever You Are" hints at the storms on the horizon and "Wilderness" tries to deny and perhaps fight the inevitable. Then comes "Little Vampires" where the air is heavier with "vampires overhead."  The stormy percussion swells through the middle of the track as the line "meet me in the shadows" is repeated in a vocal back-and-forth.  

The next two tracks "Breath" and "Salty Sea" are melancholy slow burners and set the stage for the heaviness "Wherever You Are" foresaw. The tension comes to a head just eight minutes from the end when in "Black Air," Broderick sings clearly and matter-of-factly:

When I found your body
Dropped my things right to the floor
Smell of last night's whiskey
And the puke that's on the floor
Can't reason with a drunk like you can't reason with a bear
And it's goodbye my first love hello black air

Surprisingly, "Black Air" starts out sounding rather upbeat. It leads us to believe we are out of the woods when suddenly we turn a corner and our stomachs sink. With the end mere minutes away, there is not much time left to sort everything out. Luckily for us they leave us with questions rather than answers. Ghost Heart brings its debut to a perfect close with "Human Elements;" a storm still looms overhead but Broderick sings out with hope,

Follow you across the mountains, follow you across the sea
And if the storm comes to separate us
I'll search for you 'til the lights go out
Search for you 'til the lights go out

The percussion falls away and we are left with the collected voices of Ghost Heart repeating that final phrase as a pulsing electronic burst grows to a roar and then, silence.

When I review a record, I pride myself on discussing the whole package but - a bit ironically - I never had the actual record in my possession while reviewing it. I listened to it as mp3s on my computer since the record was still in the air somewhere between the Pirate's Press in the Czech Republic and Grand Rapids. So I will be lining up at Founders this Saturday night eagerly anticipating my very own copy of The Tunnel on vinyl. I need some serious headphone time.


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