Someone very kindly sent me this album as a gift. I've given it a few listens now (it's on in the background as I write), and it's stirred up a few thoughts that I'd like to write down here.
I was born in 1972 - the year of Ziggy Stardust - and I have grown up with pop music. I understand pop as entertainment, and as art, and it has always meant a great deal to me, but in the last ten years or so (let's just say, in the 21st century), my feeling has been that pop has either died, or it is dying. Why? I don't know. Video killed the radio star, apparently; perhaps in a similar way, the internet has killed the pop star. There are many ways in which the internet may have done this, but I don't want to get too far off the subject in hand, which is The Ghost in Daylight, by Gravenhurst. Therefore, let me just say that for me - and I believe millions of others - pop music 'began' as an intimate, private and personal experience (with a record player in the bedroom and so on) and spread to create a sense of community with like-minded people based on those intimate and personal seeds. The internet, to a large extent, is the very opposite of this: it begins with the promise of community by linking you with others publicly, but too often seems only to isolate, farming and streaming information rather than allowing the deep personal experiences that pop music used to. All this is relevant, and I'll come back to it. In short, and even if it's only an example of other things, we are living in an age where we are slowly discovering that even the idealistic nerds we thought might be building a new world through the internet are just as capable of evil as anyone.
The Ghost in Daylight is very aptly named. The cover shows a grey metropolis, perhaps built of soot and snow, and the music conjures the same world with images of "railway embankments in flood-light", "gathering dust on aspen leaves" and so on. People like comparisons, so let me offer a few: the acoustic guitar here has something of the soothing, slightly quirky melancholy of early Pink Floyd. There's also a spiky kind of angst in the twists of the picking and chord changes here that brings to mind Elliott Smith (Nick Drake, a Smith influence, has also been mentioned, and it's a reference that seems fair enough). The guitar is accomplished (though understated) both in terms of arrangement and performance. There is a kind of circularity to the compositions which feels like the influence of electronic music. In other words, the guitar is closer to The Cure's Seventeen Seconds than it is to something like Led Zeppelin III, though it is more intricate than the former. There's an interesting balance on this album: it manages to sound lo-fi without being grainy. Neither the acoustic guitar nor the electronics dominate. It's finely done without being showy. On about the third or fourth listen, for instance, I became conscious of strings fairly prominent in the mix of one track (synthesised or not, I don't know); too often strings are used gratuitously, here they are clearly a real part of a crafted, layered album. I wasn't sure, at first, about Nick Talbot's voice, but on repeated listening, the echoey, murmury style holds up. I should also add that the music and lyrics, in combination, do what those two elements far too often fail to do in pop music: without an impression of strain, they enhance each other. In short, this is a good album, perhaps even a great one, and is at the very least notable enough to kindle a few sparks from the ashes of my interest in pop music.
I want to say a few more things about what I feel the significance of this album to be. It's possible my extrapolations and associations will not be of interest (they are to me, of course). I wanted to make it clear first that this is a good album; you don't need to agree with the views I will now express to like this album, and it's perfectly possible that Mr Talbot himself would not agree with them (I have no idea). Purely in terms of sound, I think The Ghost in Daylight could have been produced in the nineties. (Off the top of my head, a band like Do Make Say Think were combining 'organic' and electronic music in a not dissimilar way in 1999.) But, in terms of what is being expressed here, I think it very much belongs to the auto-tuned 21st century, with its auto-pilot non-buying public, determined to imitate their own Facebook templates of their identities. I say it belongs to this century - not because it is part of that auto-tuned mainstream, but because we have had new forms of disillusionment since the nineties ended, and it is one peculiar facet of this century that the new disillusionment has been unexpressed, remains as undiscovered by the mainstream as, well, not so much the elephant in the room - rather (and exactly), as the ghost in daylight. When I hear Nick Talbot sing, on this album, "... ships that sink like the/Hearts of the lonely/When nobody cares", to employ Morrissey's formula, I find that it DOES say something to me about my life. This is an album for all those who in our atomised, automated, dumbed-down 21st century, cannot help looking up from our computer screens sometimes, at the sound of sirens outside the window at night, and listening, and listening, and wondering whether there is still really human life out there somewhere. I can say with some confidence that I have not heard any music that sounds as close to how life in Britain in 2012 (soon to be 2013) feels, as does The Ghost in Daylight. "Bad karma hangs like/Cancerous lanterns/A poisonous glow."
Let us suppose that pop music really is dying. The liberal atmosphere from which it sprang has grown vacuous and vicious, and pop is choking (rather than eating?) itself. A friend of mine once told me that he would take the internet over all that "sixties free-love rubbish" any day. Latterly I'm inclined to think that I would take sixties free-love over the polluted con-trick of the internet any day. But perhaps the former was inevitably ancestor to the latter, anyway. Whether you favour the ancestor or the descendent, you might recognise the tang of evil somewhere in the descent; things don't always work out as we intend. Perhaps consciously, perhaps instinctively, The Ghost In Daylight seems to reflect this entire trajectory of popular culture. It reflects it ambiguously, which is only appropriate, when Talbot sings, "And you won't know when evil comes/Evil looks just like anyone/I blame/I blame/I blame anyone but me."