Freddy Ruppert, the man behind the now-defunct solo electronic/noise project This Song Is A Mess But So Am I, has always shared aesthetic similarities with Jamie Stewart, the founder and central creative force behind Xiu Xiu. It seems inevitable that these two would come together for a formal collaboration. The result is Former Ghosts, a new group that also includes Nika Roza of Zola Jesus.
The first thing you’ll notice about Fleurs is that Ruppert’s voice sounds like Stewart’s. Opening track “Us and Now” introduces the dominant sound of Fleurs: reverb-heavy programmed percussion, rudimentary synths, and densely layered vocals. The sonic density of the music creates a dynamic wherein each time an element is removed from the mix, it comes as a relief; when more reverb or echo is piled on, the track surges in intensity. This oppressive aural assault becomes fatiguing after four tracks, but we get a break on "In Earth's Palm," which features Nika Roza’s lead vocals. The instrumentation is similar to the preceding tracks but her gorgeous, soaring voice makes the song stand out, breaking up a sometimes monotonous experience.
“I Wave” features Stewart on lead vocal, and the toy instrument sound-alike production and naked pop sensibility combined with melodramatic lyrical content make it virtually indistinguishable from a strong Xiu Xiu track. The record's intensity eases off slightly; the looping, electronic tones of “Dreams” and the brief, achingly beautiful “Unfolding” provide a bridge to the record’s final four songs and its strongest act. “Flowers” maintains the right balance of manic and moody nestled inside some of the most effective instrumental programming on the album. “The Bull And The Ram” is a percussion-driven track with pristine synth flourishes and an unforgettable performance from Roza that is the record’s high point, a deeply affecting ballad that repeats the lines “Tell me your heart/Speak louder” to hypnotic effect.
“Hello Again” features plainspoken vocals over distorted keyboard melodies and tentative percussive flourishes, a brief track that effortlessly conveys a genuine depth of feeling. The record concludes with “This Is My Last Goodbye,” a duet between Ruppert and Roza that works perfectly over its modest runtime and makes me wonder why there weren’t more vocal pairings on the record. The potential this track hints at is the fundamental flaw with Fleurs, an intermittently brilliant record that could benefit greatly from more collaboration and judicious editing of the track list.
Former Ghosts consists of Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart, Zola Jesus originator Nika Roza and former This Song Is a Mess But So Am I member Freddy Ruppert. Ruppert is the lead songwriter on this brutally gloomy, Joy Division-esque project. The title of the debut, Fleurs, is a reference to the white-flowered iris (Iris germanica).
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