Experimental acoustic guitar. It conjures up images of foaming potions, electrical cables, and challenging music. My first impression of Matt Stevens' Ghost was that it seemed too satisfied with its own experimental nature. Fortunately, I gave it a second listen. Maybe the moon was in the right phase, but this time, the experiment was a success.
Ghost is full of atmospheric sonic poems that often veer towards a kind of soundtrack-like programmatic music. Stevens assembles his compositions with acoustic guitar parts (often looped) and minimal touches of bass, percussion, and keyboard. Each song has its own unique melodic elements -- stuttering rhythms, odd tonalities, and intriguing harmonies. At the same time, most of these songs are very evocative, pulling up moods and images. Musically, there are elements of jazz, folk, rock, and progressive rock, but Stevens isn't too worried about genre: a single song may shift from jazz to prog rock and back.
As a guitarist, Stevens has a wonderful touch. The playing varies from brilliantly crisp notes to looser glissando notes to a tightly controlled vibrato. In every case, Stevens achieves the effect the song calls for.
It's hard to reduce the review to a small handful of songs. There are many nice moments here.
Eleven sets up a relentless arpeggio as a foundation for a simple repetitive finger picking line. A smooth lead lies like over the top like a coverlet. Small chimes accentuate the guitar. The song is thoughtful, but there's a satisfying tension between the arpeggio and the finger picking.
My favorite track is Burnt Out Car, which balances an upbeat major 7th groove with a darker, more pensive section. The cheery part has a Pink Floyd vibe and an open, golden meadow feel. Some passes, it has a jaunty angular flow over the top. The contrasting part is like stepping into the shadows, where there's a slightly threatening feel. The song whipsaws these shifting moods, but the changes are smooth.
Both Lake Man and Ghost are more introspective and fitful, but in different ways. Lake Man is stripped down and spooky. The beat and growling bass lay out a techno feel under the classical lead line. Ghost, on the other hand, sets up a lurching rhythm and swells of sound to create a slightly mournful mood. It's busier, with more moving parts. One thing these two songs share, though, is a sense of breath...a taste of chaotic life.
This feel is pervasive throughout Ghost. The writing and execution stand up well with each other. I'll suggest Russian River's Pliny the Younger as a nice pairing.
Ghost is available on Matt Stevens' site, where you can stream it or download it and name your own price. Give it a couple of listens and, if you like it, support a great musician.