Throughout August, Crate-Digging will be focusing on recordings that have been given a cassette release.
There are some records that come right out and let you know what you’re going to get the moment you press the play button. There isn’t any mystery, no hemming and hawing and messing about with stylistic conventions. They are what they say they are, don’t you know – Justice’s D.A.N.C.E., for example, leaves little to the imagination. Same with Aerosmith’s Rocks. And while Ghost Animal doesn’t include a genre in their album title, they might as well have: Summertime in Heaven is surely the exact treat that we all need during these hot months. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we deserve it.
Ghost Animal delivers. And while it’s not immediately clear what the sound emanating from your speakers is going to coalesce into, due to the lo-fidelity (a strength) and the tracklisting (not so much), any stick-to-itive listener will ignore the challenge of the medium and be rewarded by the gooey center of joy within. See, lo-fi tape recording has, of necessity, a “sound,” and I’ve alluded to it quite a bit over this past month as I’ve focused on cassette releases. Output is all over the place, and is often fuzzy, blurred, or distorted into the red. There’s a lot artists can do within these restrictions, and it’s fascinating to see the results. Ghost Animal, I think, are a bit different than the usual in that, even though Summertime shares the same distorted result as other busted-boombox rock bands, it showcases their uncanny ability to write catchy, harmony-soaked pop songs under a cataract of less-than-optimal effects and recording equipment.
There’s really no better place to start than the title track, which closes side A. To get right down to it, Ghost Animal dreams California through and through, and the sun shimmers on the ocean in each passing song, but none more so than “Summertime in Heaven.” The vocal harmonies are beautiful and surprisingly clear, and evoke the best parts of summer, at least in feel: surfboards, cotton candy, bonfires, bicycles, beach spray, and frozen bananas on the boardwalk. (Right?) And that’s just one of several songs on the album that could showcase the band’s talents – “Single Man” appears early on and would be a perfect lead single as it skims along the top of the dating scene like a smooth stone on a pond, filled with energy and affecting everything in everywhere it goes. The record itself closes with perhaps its strongest passage as well, with “Some Other Time” giving “Single Man” a run for its money, and “California Summer Pt. 1” slinking into minor-key territory before the blurry punk of “Out of Reach” (more on this one in a second) and the poptastic Beach Boys–baiting “In Your Room,” the latter a much more enjoyable adolescent experience than Brian Wilson’s meditation on his personal and insular solo activities. It is sheer joy.
I mentioned the tracklisting above, and it’s because I find it puzzling that two of the more obscured songs, “Change Your Mind” and “Dreams,” while pleasant for what they are, lead off the album. Each has its own muddiness, as the former gets lost in the treble and the latter in the murk. They both have their endearing qualities, but for the uninitiated, it’s a bit of a stretch at the start. I find “Out of Reach” more difficult than I’d like it to be as well – it’s probably the fastest song on the record, and has a great pop hook in its guitar lead, but the distortion pedals in overdrive completely overwhelm it. And it too is redeemed, by that guitar line, and by the fact that you can totally imagine the band having the greatest time in the world performing it in live settings.
And for the heck of it: “Vanity Affair” features drum programming as its most pronounced attribute. Go figure. It’s pretty good.
This tape is surprising in that despite its fidelity limitations, it manages to clearly encapsulate the teenage beach spirit of summer. It’s upbeat and ecstatically youthful. Funny, too, that Mat Cothran (of Coma Cinema fame) co-released this on his, er, Summertime in Hell imprint. There is certainly no hell here, only an embracing of the freedom of the summer holiday. Enjoy it too – get it from Orchid Tapes free!
RIYL: Human Television, Nodzzz, The Amps