Hungry Ghosts

Alone, Alone

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An initial self-released EP from this Melbourne, Australia, band backed up by a scintillating live performance prompted Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley to invite Hungry Ghosts to New York to record this debut full-length and release it on his Smells Like Records label. The result is a serpentine, chiming album full of lulling minor-key laments that blend a diverse range of stylistic influences into a gorgeous, sad sound built out of electric and acoustic guitars, a variety of tuned percussion, trap kit, fiddle, accordion, and organ. The band takes the Southern gothic sulk of Birthday Party and These Immortal Souls, enlivens it with elements of exotic Eastern-derived sounds layered on top of an instrumental bedding of Dirty Three-style melancholy, and then sends the whole salad out on its own to troop through the spaghetti western world. "Trying to Lift a Rock With a Bottle on Your Head" builds bullfight-intense crescendos with whining violin cries and subtle hints of percussion into an edgy cinematic atmosphere. The work of Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti is certainly an esteemed elder and precursor to the shambolic majesty of Alone, Alone. Tremolo-drunken guitar and refracted bass tones continually reemerge throughout the album -- in the woozy sadness of the title track and the sea of ambient buzz that makes up "Coma" -- like convex mirror reflections shifting faces into cubist portraits. Other sonic touchstones share time with the noir-like dreamscapes. "I Don't Think About You Anymore but, I Don't Thing About You Anyless" slinks along with an accordion-led Eastern European folk melody that is part melodramatic whine, part sublime playfulness. Intimations of gamelan plinks and rhythms surface throughout the album in the various "Interludes" and in songs such as the slinky "Reading Your Mail" and the end-of-the-record slow-drone groove of "Coma." Always beneath the music you can imagine something slightly unsettling and disorienting ready to emerge, but it never reaches that point. The music paints a mysterious landscape, terribly pretty but in a distinctly fragile way. Aside from its shimmering exterior, you can hear a grainy underside, an unspoken sorrow that is almost nauseatingly haunting. It all coalesces into some stunning musical moments.

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