The Ghost in Daylight

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Patience is the watchword for Gravenhurst fans, whether they're listening to Nick Talbot's complex songs unfold or enduring a five-year wait between releases, like the one between 2007's brilliantly eclectic The Western Lands and The Ghost in Daylight. Talbot's fourth album is aptly named; these silver-and-grey songs are so subtle and delicate that they seem like they could float away at any moment. This ultra-whispery direction is something of a surprise following The Western Lands' rock leanings, but on this album Talbot spends more time unifying his wide-ranging palette than dabbling in it. His fusion of folk, dream pop, and electronics is seamless -- there are no tacked-on drum machine beats here -- and harks back to earlier albums like Fires in Distant Buildings and even his debut, Flashlight Seasons. The fittingly circular acoustic guitar pattern on the drifting opener "Circadian" plays like a return to his roots, a feeling echoed later by the impressionistic instrumentals "Carousel" and "Peacock." These smoothly blended sounds put the focus on Talbot's voice and words, both of which have never been better. Though he excels at making the disturbing beautiful and vice versa, he also lets a little more light in on The Ghost in Daylight, and "The Prize" is its brightest glimmer: as breezy and sweet as anything penned by Neil Halstead or the Clientele, it dares to hope for love, even when wanting something so much threatens to overshadow actually having it. Still, Talbot is never better than when examining humanity's darkest impulses with a cool empathy that makes his songs all the more intriguing. He's a shy but perceptive observer to tragedies big and small, as on "The Foundry," a wintry indictment of society with the refrain "You won't know when evil comes/Evil looks just like anyone/I blame anyone but me," and "Fitzrovia," which sketches a dystopian still life with electronic creaks and groans, and may be the quietest song ever about governmental oppression. Talbot's fascination with crime, death, and fire endures in his deceptively gentle songs; he doesn't write murder ballads so much as murder lullabies. "In Miniature" puts lyrics about trying to catch a killer with the image in a dead girl's retina to the kind of honeyed melody other singer/songwriters would save for more uplifting topics, while "The Ghost of Saint Paul" plays like a nursery rhyme of loss. He saves the best for last with the outstanding "Three Fires," which packs a family's worth of history and emotions, dreamlike imagery and destruction into just over four minutes. It's a suitably haunting ending to The Ghost in Daylight, Talbot's most intimate collection of songs yet; even if The Western Lands was more overtly ambitious, this may be the best gateway into Gravenhurst's world -- and it was well worth the wait.

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