‘Tall Firs’ usual raspy, nostalgic brand of self described ‘underground electronic folk’ has seen the creation of a few albums that seem half finished. Their eponymous debut album from New York based Aaron Mullan and Dave Mies was a slow paced, long winded affair. Pleasant in parts, drearily slow in others. A few standout melodic gems broken up by an album of long winded serenades to the teenage stoners they were. The pace quickened, perhaps too much, with the added percussion of Ryan Sawyer for Too Old To Die Young but slowed right back down again for their latest offering Out Of It and Into It. With the release of Ghostlight Ensemble they seem to have got it almost right.
A few years in the making, thick with collaborations, the careful editing of Ghostlight Ensemble is plain and impressively effective. First track “Ghostlight” sets the melancholic mood for the album. The pace is slow, but is a more compelling, interesting way than previous albums. Ghostlight Ensemble has the deliberate sense of being etched into existence as a message is etched into stone. Pitched as a ‘series of tender letters’, note tender, not love, sound is used to craft an interesting mood in the album, intimate yet distant.
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Details like the tinkling overlay on “Clown”, like waves washing over rocks and choral tones of “Dirty Memories” add an experimental dimension to the album, attempted but not perfected in earlier from Mullan and Mies. Some faults remain, Mies scratchy vocals are at points, abrasive, especially on the intimate instrumentals of “Street Hassle”. The occasional glimpse of country twang, an interesting feature of Out Of It and Into It is sadly all but gone. Only perceptible on “Johnny”, which leads beautifully into the unexpected only stomper of the album “Weeping Willow” followed by the unlikely, but actually well planned fragile “Cling To You”. This is the great strength of Gaslight Anthem, the smooth continuity that characterises the album. A feat that owes much to the months spent editing and weeding out retakes and re retakes. Mies and Mullan have created an album a world apart from the sometimes jarring collections of songs that characterised previous works. Essentially, the strength of the album is that it has been crafted explicitly as an album. As far as Tall Firs are concerned, this still doesn’t feel like the finished product. But definitely a listenable step in the right direction.
‘Ghostlight Ensemble’ is out now on ATP Recordings