Gravenhurst – The Ghost in Daylight

7 May

Bristol’s Nick Talbot has been releasing music as Gravenhurst for over a decade now.  That being said, The Ghost in Daylight is his first release in half a decade.  Since 2007’s The Western Lands Talbot jettisoned the band that he had toured and recorded with.  On The Ghost in Daylight he melds elements of  finger-picking folk, shoe gaze and dream pop as he did on his first two records.  It’s an awful quiet follow up to the rock backboned The Western Lands.  As the title would suggest, the songs have an ethereal quality, ranging in tone from sweet and somber to creepy and chilled.

The Ghost in Daylight starts off strong.  The opener “Circadian” and “The Prize” recall the strongest British alternative rock bands of the past two decades.  The slicing strings and romping electric guitar at the end of “The Prize” balance the acoustic tranquility of its beginning.  “The Prize” is fittingly the prize of the album.  “Fitzrovia” then hamstrings the pace set by the first two tracks with its gloomy lull of failed revolution and citizens under thumb, ending with three minutes of drizzling rain and distant train cars.

Aside:  I’ve always heard that England is rainy and dismal.  The cover art for The Ghost in Daylight is a bleak, gray-scaled cityscape.  I finally watched Antonioni’s Blow Up last night and I thought to myself, despite the whole murder mystery, “England can be so bright and colorful!  Who knew?”  This album reaffirms my initial notions.

“In Miniature” is one of the sunniest tracks on an album with “daylight” in the title, though it’s pretty, finger-plucked intro is quickly darkened by the tale of a forensic effort in post-mortem retinal scanning.  The pointless but eerie instrumental “Carousel” feels like a camera trained on a grandfather clock face; that or a bad temple trip in the original Legend of Zelda.  The sparse organ and drum machine tick on “Islands” sounds like a Kraut rock cousin of Radiohead’s “All I Need.”

The cold isolation of “The Foundry” is one of the most affecting moments on the album.  A distorted organ and ringing keys dissolve into a melancholic acoustic guitar and the story of a white-tailed rabbit pinned against a rain fence by two black wolves.  Unfortunately, “evil” does not remain polarized for long; Talbot sings, “And you won’t know when evil comes /Evil looks just like anyone / I blame, I blame, I blame anyone but me.”  A pretty grim take on society.

Although the guitar work on “Peacock” is graceful, it lacks any of the colorful vibrancy one might anticipate.  “The Ghost of Saint Paul” is the wispiest track on the album and employs the shy underproduction sound of early Elliott Smith.  Talbot continues his bizarrely peaceful treatment of death, fire and malice through the album’s outtro.  “Three Fires” is once again deceptively sweet, but almost immediately becomes an arsonist’s guide for children.  “All the citizens dreaming on the radio / All is quiet through the house, sound asleep now / All is quiet turn the key burn the house down.”  The album appropriately ends with an a cappella whisper.

What’s perhaps most frustrating about The Ghost in Daylight is that the majority of the songs are enjoyable, they simply outstay their welcome.  Whether it be a few too many refrains at the ends of “The Ghost of Saint Paul” and “Three Fires” or the three plus minutes of extraneous boredom that wrap up “Fitzrovia” and “Islands,” the album could have benefited from some careful trimming.  Other tracks like “Circadian” and “The Foundry” manage to economically cram a wealth of material into just over four minutes.

Though not as exciting as its predecessor The Western Lands, The Ghost in Daylight is a better than average album.  Talbot’s lyrics are as strong as ever.  The album can be uncomfortably introspective at times, but John Talbot may be sharpening the folk pencil that sketched his earlier work.  The real question is will Gravenhurst be a musical specter for the next five years?

P.S. – I’m actually proud of myself for getting through this entire review without using the adjective “haunting.”

Noteworthy Tracks: “Circadian,” “The Prize” and “The Foundry”

Rating: ***1/2

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One Response to “Gravenhurst – The Ghost in Daylight

  1. hj allen September 29, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    is his name Nick or John? nice review, but I think you need to listen more to the album

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