Idol Tryouts Two: Ghostly International Vol. Two
or the past six years, Ann Arbor-based Ghostly International has been one of America’s best and most consistent electronic music imprints. After taking a few years to find their feet, Ghostly has now hit its stride, and founder Sam Valenti IV has expanded the roster far beyond the borders of Michigan to include artists from around the globe.
That roster is on proud display on the two-disc, 27-track Idol Tryouts Two: Ghostly International Vol. Two, and the quality across the board is high indeed. Each disc is themed: the first is titled “Avant Pop,” the second “SMM.” Both bear the strong mark of days of electronic music past, but in very, very different ways. The discs are strikingly different, and while you may not actually want to play them back to back, both are definitely worthy of your time. Just not the same time.
Disc one features Ghostly mainstays like Matthew Dear, Dabrye (both foreshadowing their forthcoming 2006 full-lengths), Solvent, and Kill Memory Crash dipping into their bags of hooks to drop infectious pop candy confections. All four channel the retro feel of classic Depeche Mode, New Order, Visage, et al, while retaining a certain modern flair. The tracks are all of a style, to be sure, but they aren’t merely carbon copies: The popping, percussive grooves of Charles Manier’s “Bang Bang Lover” resemble Talking Heads’ classic “Slippery People,” while Lawrence’s “Wasting A Fall” is a dancefloor monster. Most all of the tracks have vocals, hummable melodies, and a certain raincoat-and-black-eye-makeup melancholy that makes this perfect late-night drive-time music for the trip out to the club/party/rave/goth ritual. Ghostly has taken on Simon Cowell and his Idol hit machine and beaten him at his own game. Handily.
It’s anyone’s guess what in the hell “SMM” stands for. While the press blurb suggests perhaps “Sensual Machine Music” or “Stately Modern Melodies,” it might be more aptly titled Super Mellow Music. Gentle, down-tempo grooves float by, along with trickles of acoustic guitar, soap-bubble beats, and other flourishes, creating a distinct atmosphere but covering enough ground to keep it from being a snooze-fest. Greg Davis rocks Eastern drones on “Amaranthine,” while Christopher Willits’ “Colors Shifting” sounds a bit like late-period Slowdive. Label mainstays Twine and Lusine stand next to guest ghosts like Loscil, Terre Thaemlitz, and Richard Devine to add extra clout and achieve down-tempo bliss.
The hallmark of a great compilation is that it manages to conjure a definitive, cohesive style and mood without treading over the same ground to the point of repetition. You won’t find many collections that achieve that goal any better than Idol Tryouts Two. In fact, if you toss in sister label Spectral Sound’s Spectral Sound Vol. 1 from last year, you can soundtrack the actual party, as well as the pre- and post party moods. Get ‘em all.