Ghost World by Ghost World

Release date: March 17, 2017
Label: Svart Records

A belated review; appropriately in a way, since Finland’s Ghost World’s debut album is the epitome of teenage slacker grunge rock. And I don’t say that lightly – I was that teenage slacker that moped around school with a carrier bag full of records and listened to Mudhoney and Babes in Toyland when I should have been studying, and I wish I’d had this album then.

An apology in advance for the comparisons which are about to litter the text of this review; they are an inevitable and handy part of reviewing a record, especially one that belongs to a recognisable genre of music, as Ghost World does. But – and this is really a key point – despite all the parallels I will draw here (which I hope are valid and helpful ones) – within the opening thirty seconds or so of the first track, ‘Middle Finger Hitchhiker’, Ghost World have established a sound which is absolutely their own, based on singer/guitarist Liisa’s highly distinctive sleepily despondent singing voice and her noisy lead playing over the grungy garage rock foundation of the rest of the band. Although they effortlessly stamp their own identity indelibly on the sound, there are some obvious precursors; notably Dinosaur Jr (especially on their immortal cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’) and Sebadoh circa Rocking the Forest. And at that point, I fell in love with this album. Not because I love early 90s alternative rock (there has rarely been a ‘movement’ I got over as quickly as grunge), but because, like the best music of that era (say ’88-’90, the ragged beginnings of grunge proper, as well as semi-related artists like The Vaselines and Lunachicks) the band manages to be unpretentiously loud and sloppy while also wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Svart Records calls Ghost World “a glorification of the insecurities and daydreams of youth” and that feels exactly right; the album has everything to do with the good and bad times you spent (or are spending) as a teenager; boredom, unrequited love, lust, drinking when you should be at school, being obsessed with loud music because everything else sucks – if these things don’t chime with your own experiences, this album may not be for you.

As an album, Ghost World starts solidly rather than spectacularly, but quickly gains momentum as it goes along; all good, bratty, noisy, joyously melancholy stuff; but in the end at least half of the songs feel like stone cold classics. I swear that, for what it’s worth, ‘Is There Something’, ‘Cricket’, ‘Drain’, ‘Good Riddance’, ‘Come On, Die Happy’ and above all, ‘Crazy Angel’ with its Sonic Youth-esque bits and upliftingly depressive chorus; “right now I’m so fucked up/that it hurts my head” would have smashed the indie charts and been the soundtrack to many a teenage party back in ’91.

Of those songs, ‘Is There Something’, ‘Cricket’ and ‘Drain’ are mid-paced and rocky, but have intensely poignant melodies, with Liisa’s guitar acting as an anguished extension of her vocals in a hugely effective way. ‘Drain’, incidentally, also features the best ‘ooh’s I’ve heard on a record for many years. Meanwhile, ‘Good Riddance’ and ‘Come On, Die Happy’ are faster, with something of the desolate quality of some of Lee Ranaldo’s Goo-era Sonic Youth songs. ‘Crazy Angel’ is a teenage grunge anthem; ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ with the heart of Screaming Trees’ ‘Dollar Bill’ or Buffalo Tom’s ‘Sodajerk’ (disclaimer; it sounds nothing like any of those songs). It’s great.

Ultimately though, what makes Ghost World a fantastic debut is nothing to do with grunge influences, it’s the band’s own ability to write catchy, emotionally involving songs and perform them in way that makes you feel them. They may be called Ghost World, but this is soul music, in its way. One of the albums of the year, so far.

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