Monday, April 11, 2011

REVIEW: Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!

Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!

Following years of critically-acclaimed singles, remixes, and one EP, NYC duo Holy Ghost! are finally releasing their eponymous debut full-length – and boy was it worth the wait. Across the album’s 10 tracks, it’s clear that Holy Ghost! (aka childhood friends Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser) devoted a great deal of time to fine-tuning their introductory statement into something of replay value. This is more than just another speck on the map of modern day electropop/dance music, this is a revival of what made dance music great in the first place: emotion meets groove.

When you think about electronic duos, groups like Daft Punk, Justice, The Knife, and Massive Attack come to mind – groups that craft haunting soundscapes and/or melodic, addictive cuts of dance music. And while Holy Ghost! can certainly be categorized under the latter of the two, they manage to write songs that are just as pop sensible as they are danceable – songs that you can lose your mind to on a dance floor or melt into through a pair of headphones at home. It’s not that Holy Ghost! are incredibly profound, but it’s clear that their debut succeeds in being the album that Frankel and Millhiser aimed for: an album that people would want to hear front to back at home, not just in a club.

What gives Holy Ghost! an edge in a genre that often favors advancement and the future is the duo’s unabashed embrace of the past – particularly disco. Frankel and Millhiser coolly nod to ‘80s production and instrumentation all throughout the album. But it never feels like a nostalgia trip or emulation of what’s already been done, because the men of Holy Ghost! have footing in dance music’s eclectic past as well as its limitless future. To set aside the professional point of view (i.e. the third person) for a moment, I can’t sit here and say I know a lot about dance music, but I can say that Holy Ghost! have managed to rise above the aesthetic of the genre to provide something with heart as well as style. They’re not wearing their hearts on their sleeves per se, but they know how to do pop with dance punk attitude.

Nearly every track has something worth mentioning, as there’s a consistency here that both maintains the pace and maximizes the strengths of each song. “Wait and See” capitalizes on the effectiveness of a little call and response, with Frankel looking for the truth in the chorus, only to be met with the response of a catchy synth riff. It’s one of the more prominent pop-oriented songs, and comprises layers of well-arranged synth patterns and percussion to create one thick slice of an impelling groove. “Hold My Breath” runs on a robotic blip of a synth bass line and features guitar riffs that add both texture as well as an air of mystery. And what’s more, Frankel cleverly sings, “So, I hold my breath” and then pauses to suggest such an act – a simple thing, but definitely something that illustrates Holy Ghost!’s keen sense of timing. “Jam for Jerry,” a tribute to the late drummer Jerry Fuchs, finds a balance between memorializing and celebrating the duo’s friend; it’s a song that recollects just as much as it praises Fuchs’ talent and personality, without losing itself in its sentiment. “Hold On” was the duo’s debut single and the song that garnered them a great deal of attention when it was released back in 2007. And yet, despite its age, it still sounds fresh and finds a suitable home here in between the other nine tracks. Album closer “Some Children” starts with a choir and progresses into seductive, ‘80s electro-funk that features the inimitable crooner Michael McDonald (yes, that one); it’s what magic must sound like.

This is an album that gives Holy Ghost! a proper introduction, one that will, undoubtedly, prove to be one of the top debuts of the year. They have posited themselves at the forefront of the dance/electronic music genre by proving that they can both successfully remix other artists as well as write their own, enduring songs. As an album, Holy Ghost! captures a bit of the disco-funk spirit from the duo’s namesake (The Bar-Kays’ 1979 epic “Holy Ghost!”), suggesting the duo really does have an ear on the past. With their mix of disco, electropop, and electro-funk, Holy Ghost! have demonstrated how to cross the past with the present, all while keeping an eye, and ear, on the future. Frankel and Millhiser are updating disco for a new generation, and it sounds like they’re having an enviable amount of fun along the way. Holy Ghost! is an album that’ll amplify your flow endorphins or pick you up off the floor when you’re feeling low.

Holy Ghost! is out tomorrow physically through DFA. It's been out digitally since April 4th.

Check out/download 2 tracks from the album below.

Holy Ghost! - "Do It Again"


Holy Ghost! - "Wait and See"

Click down arrow in player to download

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