Ghosts, by their very nature, are not contented. They are disembodied, in an ornery state of flux - an unresolved state of transition that results in them being haunting, mischievous and generally frustrated. There are no cheery ghosts, but if there were any, there would be no degree to their happiness, let alone three exclamation points.
Extra Happy Ghost!!! is the project of Calgary's Matthew Swann, a bedroom recorder who has moved on from home electronics for his first full-length album. Modern Horses was made in the studio operated by Chad VanGaalen, the indie-rock superhero who recorded the nine lingering, minimalist, sixties-reverbed tracks of this cohesive, understated black-and-white effort.
The album's closing number is its namesake, a downbeat drone of windy, whirring tape noises, morose he-she vocals and a sparse guitar motif that comes and goes. The song Modern Horses - there are no such things as "modern" horses by the way, just evermore confused ones in an increasingly advanced world - considers a small pack of them who, in their panic of being herded into downtown Calgary, jumped off a bridge in 2005.
"The modern horses," guest singer Laura Leif deadpans, "know how few things they control."
The preceding Haunted House is equally subdued, but with a queer organ and a lone, disembodied voice - the ghost of Dennis Wilson? - at work. Superstition, a broken neck and a "massive harm in the garage" are involved.
Lyrics of Swann's intrigue, though I don't catch all the drifts. Themes of helplessness and chance, I think, play a part. Suffocation, too. "Hypoxia take me down with gentle power," Swann offers slackly on the retro-groovy hazy pop of Mercy Mercy, the word "power" accentuated with a burst of extra-awesome(!!!) echo.
I'm sure I'm giving you the wrong idea about this record, an excellent follow-up to the descriptively titled 2009 EP How the Beach Boys Sound to Those With No Feelings. It's lo-fi, uncluttered, head-nodding existentialism that isn't dreary. Fire on Fire, in fact, is something you could shimmy to lightly.
Neither horses nor ghosts were harmed in the recording. Pitch-correcting software for Swann's vocals was not employed. Drums are simplistic. Guitar solos do not figure, though the saggy strum of j23439 has a bit of a dissonant freak-out to it.
Ghosts aren't happy, Swann probably realizes; the exclamatory emphasis is classic sardonic punctuation. And very few tamed horses are optimistic. People often are, but that doesn't mean they know any better. Modern Horses and Extra Happy Ghost!!! make all the sense in the world after all.
- Extra Happy Ghost!!!
- Saved By Radio
Extra Happy Ghost!!! plays Calgary's Marquee Room, Aug. 5; Edmonton's Wunderbar, Aug. 6; Montreal's Casa del Popolo, Aug. 31; Toronto's Tiger Bar, Sept. 1.