There are two different ways to create cohesion on an album. The first, obviously, is to craft a specific sound that a band sculpts into a recognizable aural signature. The group then plays with the fringes and pushes boundaries while still maintaining the core attributes within that sound. The other option is, counterintuitively, to forgo a single sound altogether, opting instead to push in a multitude of eclectic directions. Beck’s Odelay, for example, was a cohesive album precisely because of how often and jubilantly its creator jumped from genre to genre.
Tape Deck Mountain’s Ghost, led by San Diego’s Travis Trevisan, treads in some uncomfortable, ambivalent middle ground. Even the band name and album name suggest some a sort of opposition, with the former inspiring bedroom-pop images and the latter conjuring up a dramatic, dark mood. There are moments when Ghost sounds lo-fi, with reverb-drenched vocals that sound as if they were recorded in a closet, and there are times when it sounds hi-fi, with sparkling guitar tones and remarkable percussive clarity. There are moments when it sounds like a pop record, encouraging foot tapping and head bobbing, and there are moments when it sounds like the band’s primary influences were all listed in the liner notes for Turn on the Bright Lights.
All of this makes listening to Ghost a bit discombobulating. The album kicks off with “Scantrons,” where gently strummed guitar chords and Trevisan’s smoky vocals rise over a delicate feedback haze before the drums slam in halfway through for a pleasantly jarring effect. “Scantrons” morphs into companion track “F-,” where the layered vocals and playful keyboard runs create an effect reminiscent of Anticon’s early forays into indie pop. “On My Honor” follows in a similar vein, with a second half dominated by swirling vocal harmonies and a sudden but welcome guitar outro.
The album’s middle section moves abruptly into a different direction. Songs like “80/20” and “Ghost Colony” reveal previously undetected goth influences and a penchant for disquieting guitar leads. “In the Dirt” trudges along on a sludgy, uninspired bass fuzz, not helped by cringe-worthy lyrics and insipid rhymes like “Please don’t marry that asshole Larry.” The opening guitar squalls of “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie” fade pointlessly into three minutes of ultimately forgettable tape-loop experiments. While these songs showcase Tape Deck Mountain’s scope, they also lack the natural charm and deft songcraft of that makes the first few songs truly enjoyable.
The album closes on the twelve seconds of “A+” and proper song “Bat Lies,” which serve as a sort of matching bookend to Ghost‘s opening tracks. Oddly enough, Tape Deck Mountain chooses this time to revert back to its brand of affable guitar pop, treating the beginning and end of the album like the front and back covers of a book. “Bat Lies” glides comfortably on beds of sighing backup vocals, easy strums and organ drones that are enough to save a phrase like “I’ll tell you lies to make you bat your eyes.”
Ghost‘s nine tracks fly by in under 30 minutes, which makes its general trepidation to form any sort of identifiable sound all the more confounding. While there are some great moments and promising songs, the album is hindered by its refusal to either commit to a sound or commit to trying new things. The tone of the album seems indecisive, and Ghost ends up marginalizing its own strengths.