Before there was the fabulous, fantastic, and brilliant Passenger Peru (that’s only hyperbolic if you have no heart), there was Justin Stivers’ Pet Ghost Project. It was just Justin, and it sounded like way more than just Justin. There are so many layers – just think about the average Elephant 6 band (remember them?), some of whom PGP resembles, and consider all the instruments jammed into Olivia Tremor Control or Neutral Milk Hotel songs. Now think about just one person doing all that. The vision that Stivers must have had coming in to the recording of Cheer Up—It’s Raining was clearly vivid and fully formed – as with Passenger Peru, he doesn’t waste a note here.
Right away, he moves from folk to grunge to E6 pop in the blink of an eye on opener “Celebrate Youth (Over and Over Again),” and there’s not a more apt title in the world. The song careens giddily through all of Stivers’ musical touchstones, serving as a perfect opening for a record just begging to let you in on all of its secrets. And that’s one of the best things about Pet Ghost Project – it acts like it wants to include you, to be part of its greater whole, and “Celebrate Youth,” even in its wordlessness, acts as a great invitation to the sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes real, sometimes imaginary world Justin Stivers populates.
It’s so hard for me to pick out favorite moments throughout Cheer Up, because it’s really just hooked me as a whole, as I’m sure it’s meant to. But “Tales of Stagefright” straddles the line between headlong distorted indie rock and the cleaner 1960s-isms of The Apples in Stereo’s output. It’s easy to get stuck in your head. “Age of Automatics” heads into Elliott Smith’s Heatmiser territory, with shouted vocals punctuating the hushed verses and acoustic instrumentation. And closer “Another” is a classic torch song, perfect to end an album – or mixtape if you decide to go that route. You should. You should end it with “Another.”
Cheer Up—It’s Raining just came across my attention this year, so I hadn’t heard the original mix when it was first released. But whatever happened between then and now surely made it sound great – It’s quite ballsy, I’m sure a huge step in the right direction from those antiquated recording methods that only could be popular in 2008. It was probably all tinny and distorted. (Right? Right?) It’s also interesting hearing very little difference from Stivers’ work as Pet Ghost Project and his current work in Passenger Peru: I guess the man’s always had songwriting chops, and very little refinement was needed. Keep it up.
RIYL: Passenger Peru, Foxygen, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo