Jukebox the Ghost's latest record, Off To The Races is a giddy, vibrant collection of Jukebox the Ghost's most bombastic, colorful songs to date. Though it's the fifth studio outing from this long-running trio of piano pop wizards, it plays like an energetic debut album: Just as eager to please as it is eager to surprise you. Every generation has a band that puts a fresh twist on piano-rock, and Jukebox the Ghost’s latest studio offering serves as a memorably vivid and kaleidoscopic step forward for the genre.
From the opening vocal stack of "Jumpstarted," it's obvious that Jukebox the Ghost has newfound confidence in embracing bold musical risks. A mishmash of modern pop, retro vocals and classic rock indulgence, it's a head-spinning listen for the first go-round that the band describes as "what it's like to be inside of Ben (Thornewill, lead singer/pianist)'s brain." A thickly-layered vocal intro builds into a showcase of Thornewill’s virtuosic classical piano chops and then abruptly vaults into a bouncy, upbeat pop chorus led by Jesse Kristin’s punchy backbeat drumming. A synth solo enters and you're suddenly in a section vaguely resembling hip-hop. The guitar solo kicks the door down and you're front row at an arena rock show. Thornewill recorded over 170 vocal tracks in "Jumpstarted," and somehow you can hear them all.
One influence stands out in particular as a common thread: Queen. This isn't a matter of happenstance -- The band has recently made a tradition of "HalloQueen," a yearly show where they perform two sets: One as themselves, followed by a set break, and one in costume (and in character) as Queen. Through being forced to do a deep dive into Queen's catalogue, the band says they ended up discovering themselves in the process. "Something magical about Queen to me is that their songs are so catchy, but the song structures are so wonderfully wrong and they're so unafraid to showcase their chops," said Tommy Siegel. "Their music is a reminder to me that pop music doesn't have to come in a neat, restrained package,” added Thornewill, “It's ok to get weird and own it -- And you can still be catchy.”
The second track from Off To The Races, "Everybody's Lonely" provides a mix of old and new, evocative of Queen crossed with Walk the Moon. In addition to a distinctly modern pop chorus, it also features a surprising time signature shift and a bridge that has more in common with "Bohemian Rhapsody" than it does current radio morés. And though Thornewill’s lyrics thumb their nose at modern pop radio, it’s also easy to envision it becoming a modern pop hit in its own right. The third track, a snarky ode to the 9-to-5 from guitarist/singer Tommy Siegel called "People Go Home" sounds like you've tuned into some 1970s AM radio station that's been humming along in a parallel universe for decades, an otherworldly early-Beatles-style track for the new millennium.
Nothing as the ideal
From the brimming light of the lead guitar on opener “Saturnine & Iron Jaw” to the mellow grunge unfolding in the finale “Rats in Ruin,” Nothing as the Ideal is a signature All Them Witches release, which of course means it sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before.
The Nashville trio thrive on contrast. Now six records deep into a tenure that began in 2012, they are unremittingly forward-looking, and while signature elements can be found throughout Nothing as the Ideal – from guitarist Ben McLeod’s prog-tinged explorations to the slacker-soul vocals of bassist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., to the restless energy and rhythmic nuance in Robby Staebler’s drum patterns – it is also their most experimental work to-date.
But contrast is the key: Tape loops coincide with unplugged minimalism. They recorded it in a strange place with a familiar producer. It’s their heaviest album marked by their broadest atmospheres, intimate and pummeling. It is unquestionably theirs even as it will no doubt engender ownership in anyone who hears it.
Nothing as the Ideal might forever be known as “the album All Them Witches made at Abbey Road.” Fair enough. You don’t record in a legendary studio surrounded by mics The Beatles used, sitting on the bench where John Lennon tracked the acoustic guitar for “A Day in the Life” without acknowledging that history. There’s no getting away from it.
Where Nothings as the Ideal triumphs, however, is in making that space and that history the band’s own. Working with Mikey Allred, who previously produced 2015’s New West label debut, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, and has done other mixing and mastering along the way, All Them Witches not only did justice to the moment they were capturing – the sheer adventure of being there, doing that thing – but answered the call of their inspiration as they always do.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The idea was to take time, do it themselves. But after spending the early part of 2019 constructing a studio in a church outside Nashville where Staebler was living and writing, writing, writing, the band came up against the deadline of a 35-date European arena tour with Ghost and had the single “1×1” to show for it. They put that song out, did a video, and after the tour, redirected their purposes.
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One only knows one. Two is balanced therefore stagnant. III both active and reactive. Charles Moothart, Ty Segall and Chad Ubovich are FUZZ. FUZZ is three. And III has returned. Songs for all, and music for one.
III was recorded and mixed at United Recording under the sonic lordship of Steve Albini. Keeping the focus on the live sounds of the band, the use of overdubs and studio tricks were kept to a minimum. Albini’s mastery in capturing sound gave FUZZ the ability to focus entirely on the playing while knowing the natural sounds would land. It takes the essential ingredients of “guitar based music” and “rock and roll power trio” and puts them right out on the chopping block. It was a much more honest approach for FUZZ — three humans getting primitive, staying primitive. The goal was never to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it’s just about seeing how long you can hold on before you’re thrown off.
Album opener “Returning” serves as a sort of mission statement for the album. It’s an auditory meditation on the power of one and the different perspectives of one, whether it is the singular person looking inward, or a group of people coming together as a single unit. Not only is it an echo of the return of FUZZ, but also a broader return to form – raw and empowered through vulnerability.
“Nothing People” and “Spit” served as a launching point into the new sphere that would become III. They were written around the same time, and felt like they opened two different doorways — familiar in some ways and new in others. “Time Collapse,” a rogue cut from the days of FUZZ’s II, landed soundly on the scorched surface of side A to round things out.
“Mirror” opens up the B side and the collective consciousness. Mirroring the call to arms of “Returning,” the song asks the listener to link arms with the band, march to the same drum of love, and create a space of equality among the freaks. The pummeling rhythm demands the request to crush the mirror that feeds you lies. In the end, it’s a ballad for the unique, twisted, and natural self that should be exalted before any falsehood.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor began with Efrim Menuck, Mauro Pezzente and Mike Moya in Montréal in the early 90s, playing a handful of shows and recording a self-released cassette as a trio before beginning to transform the group into a large band. Recruiting numerous Montreal musicians through 1995-1996, GYBE mounted sense-rattling wall-of-sound performances, featuring as many as 14 musicians and several 16mm film projectors, eventually self-recording their debut vinyl-only version of F#A#∞, released on Constellation in late summer 1997. The band’s Hotel2Tango warehouse space in Montréal’s Mile-End district was a central hive of DIY activity, with band rehearsal rooms, silkscreen and wood shops, and weekend shows that took place under the radar.
The group settled into a permanent nine-member line-up by late 1998, with Aidan Girt and Bruce Cawdron on drums, Thierry Amar and Mauro on basses, Efrim, Dave Bryant and Roger Tellier-Craig on guitars, and Norsola Johnson and Sophie Trudeau on cello and violin respectively. The band toured and recorded continuously from 1998-2002 and gained a reputation for mesmerising live shows marked by orchestral dynamics, epic rock power and clunky, beautiful film loops. Following hundreds of concerts and the release of four records – F#A#∞ (1997), Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP (1999), and the double albums Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (2000) and Yanqui U.X.O. (2002), GYBE went on hiatus in 2003.
Various GYBE offshoots continued with their own momentum through the 2000s, most notably The Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band (including Efrim, Sophie and Thierry), Hrsta (led by Moya), Fly Pan Am (featuring Roger), Esmerine (co-founded by Bruce), 1-Speed Bike (Aidan’s solo punk-techno project) and Set Fire To Flames (led by Dave, and including Bruce, Moya, Roger and Sophie).
Godspeed returned to live performance in December 2010, when the band was invited to curate and perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK. This was followed by renewed and extensive international touring. October 2012 saw the release of ‘ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND!, their first recorded work in a decade, to near-unanimous critical acclaim, including a 9.3 rating and Best New Music at Pitchfork and the appearance on countless year-end lists. The similarly praised ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’ followed in March 2015; this album marked the group’s first personnel change in many years, with Tim Herzog replacing Bruce on drums.