GHOST PAL LAMENTS/CELEBRATES THAT ‘NATHAN JONES IS DEAD’
An old friend once suggested that the first paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea provides an uncanny synopsis of the story to follow, both in content and tone. The lead track off of Nathan Jones Is Dead, the newest otherworldly dreamscape steeped concept-album delivered by Brooklyn’s Ghost Pal, does very much the same thing.
A fitting chaos of organ, drums, guitar, bass, and horns fills the first 15 seconds of “Who Is Nathan Jones?,” a precursor to the enthralling stupors the listener is subject to throughout the album, followed by a minimalist prologue in which frontman Oliver Ignatius warbles out a dark string of lyrics that contemplate mortality, contradiction, and experience with the afterlife. Vocal harmonies, heavy reverb, and occasional echo suggest a likeness to Abbey Road’s “Sun King” as the track transitions into an R&B jaunt, led by staccato baritone sax hits and jazz-tumbling drums in three-quarters time.
To be terribly brief, Nathan Jones Is Dead is the story of a delinquent man whose disillusions with corporeal life lead him through an odyssey of the afterlife in which only groovy music and the hedonism of the dead can save his immoral soul. The album embraces a certain eclectic temperament, showcasing both crooning balladry and screeching, deconstructive pop, leaving the listener screaming “we gotta move” a la Nathan Jones himself. Ignatius’ lyrics assume a certain schizophrenic, dual-plus personality, wherein he sings in first, second, and third person, enabling any listener to take on whichever Nathan Jones persona they’d like.
The album’s single, “Hop, Skip & a Jump,” establishes the uptempo and vivacious component of the opus. A country shuffle, accompanied by an Elliot Smith-like (multi-tracked) melody, and baptist congregation handclaps indicates the lively, rambunctious side of Ghost Pal, not to mention, the wonderful and bewildering passage from life to death. After a delicate Velvet Underground-style interlude, one wonders how many foot-tapping choruses these guys can deliver.
Without cease, there is something for everyone upon this album. No wait, scratch that: there is too much for everyone. I hear a haunting soundtrack for a barren wasteland, a baritone saxophone line that rivals Sylvia Plath’s poem “Arrival of the Bee-Box,” a sedated-ragtime-funk-groove that’s on par with Fiona Apple’s most wretched shadow, a freaky little toy piano waltz that mimics the credits to a horror movie, a single note piano-punch reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Starman,” religious connotations, sublime isolation, lyrical puns, The Phantom of the Opera, the pomp of Queen, a wall of sound, a head-bangers delight, a playful melodica ditty, a pertinent and understated cover, and of course, a light at the end of the tunnel. Woah, I’m out of breath.
Beautifully orchestrated, arranged, mixed, and mastered, Nathan Jones Is Dead will leave a listener over-saturated, gloomy, baffled, and surprisingly tranquil.
It should be mentioned that this album must be heard from beginning to end, on continuous play, for the track order is definitive; the end of one song is often the foundation of its successor and mere seconds of silence between songs breaches on sacrilege. Here, hellcats, is a piece that speaks for itself.
Listen to the album on Ghost Pal’s bandcamp. They will perform Nathan Jones Is Dead at their record release party, this Saturday @ 111 Rogers Ave, Apt 1. Doors open @ 8pm.