Being a musician is about considerably more than playing an instrument. It’s about a life moved by artistic vision and emotion – a fraught word in the modern era. Like that other, highly nuanced casualty of the lexicon, ‘gay’, it’s been forced into an entirely other set of pants. Emotion in its truncated, graffitoed form has been circumscribed to those youth who feel that shanghiing the Goth credo is not enough, that as sole inheritors of genuine sorrow the emos need to annex it for their own private kingdom. But Ghost Mountain ain’t letting go of it.
This band’s lives are a subterranean mine of emotion, roiling and tectonically shifting beneath the amaranthine hills of the Byron hinterland. And where it breaks the surface, that’s where you’ll find Art Without Audience.
Engineered, produced and finessed in his usual inimitable style by co-founding member Christian Pyle (CP), this record is then broken down by Sal Yates, the other half of the equation. Sal’s voice, enormous, vulnerable, glorying in power and range, is as laden with the E word as was Johnny Cash’s in another realm entirely, so tightly woven with tantalising promise, searing passion and aching despair that every phrase sounds like a psalm from the Old Testament.
Arm that voice with CP’s masterful, deft and unrestrained knowledge of an electric guitars possibilities, and you indeed have high art, albeit aloof and oblique, grounded in high misty hills and constant, tropical rain. It’s my contention in fact that the mountain is question is music itself, and the ghost is the ephemeral, shifting emotion that haunts it.
Drummer Nick Edin and bassist Eben McCrimmon are adept interpreters of the raging and temperamental songs on this, the second album from the band. Two years in the making, it’s a potent mix of their signal slant on rock and roll with a determined and steady artistic vision. Envenomed at turns with Bryson Mulholland’s coruscating keys and CP’s own bristling voice, the result is a glittering treasury of blazing ardour and wilful collapse.
From the stately timbre of Government Arms to the Crazy Horse guitar tirade of I’m Gonna Face You, there’s a ruthless spectrum of styles lurching through the eleven songs. Delving into electro-pop with Everythings OK, the Mountaineers also tackle brooding alt-rock in Started a Fire, while Capsized Moon is as lilting and yearnful as Don’t Make Me Wait is majestic.
Easy Does It is a standout, not because I have an undeserved credit, but because of its simple melody and poised, sanguine lyric. The lover who sings ‘You swine, I’m coming to get you’, is the same who on Animal declares, “I’m not your animal, you’re not worth dying for”, and hexes exes when In Spite of Me shudders in full spate with “I’m getting over the game … taking time to write the lies that you breathe …”. She’s also the temptress who promises “If you really wanted this could be your song”, in Capsized Moon.
Like Ghost Mountain’s previous work, this album is more about subtle and dark than user-friendly. There’s few concessions to idiocy and the banal will slope away, unmoved. But if you like to tap into raw emotion and the elliptical truth of unfettered art, you’ll find closer The Whole compelling and its hot-tempered jealousy a door slamming on a volatile, irresistible album. Like a spurned lover, you’ll be hanging at the back windows, peering into that murky light.