Based in Asheville in North Carolina Crooked Ghost are a band who draw om the influences of post-punk, with smatterings of Goth and Indie thrown in for good measure. They recently released their second album Skeleton House which is an eight track affair put out independently. The title of the record suggests either some form of haunted abode, or a stripped down residence consisting of bare components. In terms of the lyrics there are references to somnambulist escapades, black cats and cursed voodoo, so the influence of magic and witchcraft is evident. With regards to how the tracks sound, there is a wistful dreamlike quality to them which is underpinned by a sharp and often melancholic tone.
Body in Stars is the opening track and it kicks things off with sparse atmospheric sounding guitars for the first few bars, which are subsequently accompanied by a slightly echoed and warbling vocal. It is a relatively slow track and the only lyric is, ‘lay me on a bed of sky and cover my body in stars’. It sets the tone pretty well for the rest of the album with light drumming and an overall understated air to it. Flamboyant and showy parts are eschewed for an altogether more subdued sonic palette.
Sleepwalker picks up the pace a little with a more urgent, galloping drum beat as gliding vocals hold sway. The track gradually builds up the feeling of angst in the voice into a slightly heavier ending. Only Nightmares has a strung out dreamlike texture to it. The layout is quite minimal as lilting riffs ring out for the first minute and a half. A little later there is some discordance between the guitar sections which works well and the drawn out quality of the songs ending over elongated vocal notes is pretty good.
Catch Fire treads a line between an off kilter post-punk aesthetic and more poppy construction. There is an almost jangly tone in parts, bringing to mind the sound of a slightly heavier Bright Eyes. As the song develops the build up of glitchy sounding noises counterpoised with the guitar and vocal interplay makes for an interesting dynamic. Witch Heart is heavier than the preceding tracks and revisits the approach of layering up the backing instrumentation, particularly vocal additions into a crescendo that subsequently fades out on echoed words.
Black Cat is another down-tempo track, the guitar is slow and deliberate and the beat almost dirge-like. Such a technique does allow room for some nice harmonic accents and vocal vibrato, but this song felt as if it went on a little too long without really going anywhere. By contrast Roadkill feels more purposeful. The central riff has the air of the Sisters of Mercy and as the song progresses the band pick up the pace a fair bit. It is less meandering and the vocals are less breathy, containing a little more venom. In fact there is an incantatory quality to the sonic development of the track as it explores the scenario of an uncertain and potentially dangerous encounter with a stranger.
Eponymous track Skeleton House rounds the album off and it is another rather long and brooding number. The lyrics are at once descriptive and ambiguous, ‘after the fire nothing was the same.’ The exploration of a half described scenario leaves the exact circumstances open to interpretation and the accompanying music is suitably foreboding. Washed out notes set up against mournful vocals are dominant for most of the the track. The drums do step up somewhat later on and the dark ambience of the whole record is brought to a close with increasingly anguished tones, before culminating in a final lonesome guitar note.
This album is not exactly an uplifting listen, not that that is an issue, though at times it’s downbeat and understated execution can seem a little slow. There is an air of claustrophobic languishment that is embedded into the make up of these songs. This is probably not an album to soundtrack raucous pre-drinks, but it does possess an earnest intensity and manages to inject enough energy to avoid descending into torpidity. It is a record that bears repeated plays to allow the tracks to unfold fully. With a closer listen I could discern a complexity of execution, as moments of energised vigour contrast with the space and subtlety that is the pervasive quality in most of the songs.