Review : Simon Joyner - Ghosts
ConsequenceofsoundOne of the first things you’re likely to notice about Simon Joyner’s Ghosts is that it clocks in at a whopping 86 minutes – long even by traditional double album standards. Of course, that fact alone doesn’t warrant backlash, as long as the album in question carries enough ideas to sustain interest for the amount of time it takes to watch most of a movie.
But it only takes a handful of these minutes to realize that Joyner doesn’t really care what you do with your time. As opposed to a collection of fully-realized and fine-tuned song ideas in the vein of Blonde On Blonde or Daydream Nation – landmark double albums Joyner claims inspired this effort – Ghosts plays more like one continuous, tone-wavering rant from a troubled friend grasping at a few elusive moments of clarity amidst 86 minutes of unfiltered blathering.
As with much of his prior work, if one definitive thing can be said about Ghosts, it’s that Joyner’s songs are capital-P Personal, and not in some still-pleasant-sounding, Sea Change way. His singing voice is jarringly atonal throughout, and its primary accompaniment is a “full band” of overwhelming string parts that are more aimlessly erratic than supportive. Ghosts is so heavy on these elements that by the time one of its few truly rewarding moments rolls around, the damage is already long done, and it can’t possibly redeem the exhaustion brought on by combing through so much sheer self-indulgence.
It should be noted, though, that a few such positive moments are buried in here. “If I Left Tomorrow” is a strong highlight of the album’s superior second half: a profound, if surprisingly straightforward, folk number on which Joyner ponders his legacy. “The Tyrant”, on the other hand, is a rare case of Joyner making productive use of his beloved string noise by layering it above a sedated yet rock solid bass line, creating some engaging tension towards the apex of the nearly nine-minute track....full text
DustedmagazineThere’s nothing like a decade anniversary to shake you up. Simon Joyner has marked the 20th year of his recording career with a record, Ghosts, that interrupts the progression toward complete craftsmanship that he has pursued from 1999’s The Lousy Dance through his last album, Out into the Snow. His lyrics aren’t any less careful; Joyner has far too much respect for a lineage of songwriting that encompasses Dylan, Cohen and Van Zandt to let an ill-considered line get away from him. But he’s put aside the just-right settings that Fred Lonberg-Holm, Laraine Kaizer and Michael Krassner have wrapped around his voice in favor of something more rough-edged and rambunctious.
The ballads here are, as ever, framed with delicately strummed acoustic guitars and sorrowful bowed strings, but their gathering is more informal, as though someone turned the tape machine on while they were still working out just what to do. The difference is more pronounced on the rockers, which blaze with a bile and chaos unparalleled in Joyner’s work. It’s as though someone had played the Dead C’s Harsh 70s Reality to the Rolling Stones of Beggars Banquet, and then turned them loose on Dylan c. Blonde on Blonde.
Like those records, Ghosts is a double album, made the way they used to make ‘em. Joyner cut it all-analog (at least, up to the point where the music was digitized for the download coupon tucked into the gatefold sleeve). The sleeve is adorned with old film strips. He sang the songs while the band played, and the tracks were mixed with hands on faders instead of computer mice. And the record wears its ambition like a big ol’ barn coat, simultaneously weighty and perfectly fit....full text
PopmattersGhosts is the new album from singer-songwriter Simon Joyner, and it serves as a sort of celebration for the performer. This year marks his 20th anniversary as a recording artist, and though he’s remained too far under the radar for his career, he had marked his twenty years in independent music with a new, well, independent project. Well, sort of. Joyner raised money through his fanbase on Kickstarter, but even this act serves as another celebration of the close relationship between an independent artist and their fanbase, and Joyner used that connection to—like many people—put his latest record together.
He also put it out on his own, Sing, Eunuchs! label, which he resurrected for this release, and he used all those Kickstarter funds to knock out a nearly 90-minute double album bursting with big ideas and bigger songs. It’s a generous set from a guy who has spent his career devoting himself to his craft. What Ghosts does not do—smartly—is rehash Joyner’s early lo-fi days. Instead, this is a rattling, loose and gritty full-band set, something far more wide-open than his last record, Out Into the Snow, and less controlled in its dark textures than 2006’s Skeleton Blues.
This is a set with gnarled guitar parts and rattling cymbals, not to mention feedback and looping atmospherics that swirl around some down-and-out folk tunes. From the wobbly opening notes of the fittingly off-kilter “Vertigo”—complete with the most untethered howl Joyner has committed to tape in some time—you know that this is the most experimental and curiously huge set of Joyner’s career. He’s written plenty of long songs to great effect—see Lost with the Lights On—but these are unruly, burred at the edges. Guitars ring in defiant buzzing waves of the nearly nine-minute “The Tyrant”. “If It’s All Right With You (It’s All Right With Me)” is split into two parts—the first a noir-black blues rocker, the second a tangle of violins and jangling guitars and Joyner’s echoing voice in the distance. Even songs that seem to play it straight, like the dusty folk of “Answering Machine Blues”, there’s still strings humming like a bee hive on the edges....full text
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