Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: DFA
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic, Alternative Dance, Synth Pop
Never mind long distance runners. Forget all about tower crane drivers. Instead ponder the loneliness of the ageing clubber. The one hit with the creeping dreadful realisation that 2am isn’t “the start of a good night”. The one no longer sure where ‘it’ is at. The one thinking that maybe ….
Not to alarm anyone, but there is something of a hole in the music scene here – although the aperture is in synthpop/nu-disco/inditronica/alternative dance, all genres with far too many hyphens and modifiers and, seriously, with so many backslashes, how could one take alarm at this? – and, while it appears relatively small and fresh for now, one is always concerned with figuring out what is going to plug said hole, as soon as possible (knowing as soon as possible, preferably before others, is of the utmost importance here). The wound is shaped something like a disco ball, or, more accurately, a somewhat roguishly-doughy looking gentleman with an unkempt knot of hair and a 5?o clock (a. m.
When indie-disco duo Holy Ghost! released their debut LP in 2011, they were widely dismissed as late-comers to the party. James Murphy had just called time on LCD Soundsystem and the glory days of DFA’s dance-punk reign were over. Holy Ghost! was well-received, but it was clear that whatever their talents, they weren’t going to revive the scene alone.
Dynamics could be considered the first proper album from Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser, whose self-titled debut as Holy Ghost! -- part singles compilation, part standard album -- was made incrementally over several years. It's undoubtedly steadier and unified, built for beginning-to-end listening. Nothing is quite as momentous as earlier A-sides like "Hold On" or "I Will Come Back," but the songs are more finely detailed and developed.
As the progenitors of last decade's indie-dance boom hit their “Now what?” years, the definition for musical maturation stands to get a bit confused. Music that nods to a previous generation's styles also faces the pitfall of knowing how those styles ossified when their listenership aged-- a combination of more self-awareness and more conscious grabs for half-comfortable adaptation-- and artists are trying even more stringently to avoid it. Holy Ghost! appeared on the scene near the end of the DFA-dominated indie-house movement's first peak, and managed to capture their stake in that scene with a couple fantastic releases (2007's “Hold On”; 2010's “Static on the Wire” EP) and an ensuing album that, though slightly uneven, pointed towards a promising future.
On their second album, this New York synth-pop duo trumpet the power of "Dumb Disco Ideas." And they've got more than a few of them, expertly cribbed from classic Depeche Mode, Italo-disco, Giorgio Moroder, New Order, LCD Soundsystem and more. Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel's New York is a high-end playpen, "a sick and lovely place," as they call it on the relentlessly percolating "Bridge and Tunnel," but there isn't much jaded distance in the songs. Not only could you imagine the graphic designer Tony Manero of 2013 pulling on skinny jeans to the cybertronic kink of "Dance a Little Closer," you'll pray he dances the night away with the hottest luxury-condo-showings coordinator in the club.
Nostalgia usually runs in 20-year cycles, but the modest popularity of acts like Empire of the Sun and Holy Ghost! shows that we’re not quite ready to shake off our fascination with the decade of excess. While the synthpop of the ‘80s built their sound upon pre-existing building blocks of pop (how else would they have done it?), acts like Holy Ghost! write their songs as if the genres of techno or disco sprouted out of the ground with no subterfuge. They’ve been able to steer attention their way over a few short years by remixing Moby, touring with LCD Soundsystem, signing to James Murphy’s DFA label and, just recently, touring with New Order.
Tome upon tome has been written on the value of nostalgia in art, and it’s not likely to stop any time soon. Despite the relatively young age of popular music, it has been and will always be a cyclical beast, a thing that more or less repeats itself with slight variations — some good and some bad — over the years. So, we could talk about that.
Holy Ghost! loves the '80s, in that I Love the '80s sort of way. This means they love the sound of chintzy keyboards, dead-eyed harmonies, and cheesy-to-the-point-of-near-Dadaism lyrics. They're especially fond of bad movie soundtracks from the '80s, and they show it on their sophomore effort, Dynamics, by making every song sound like the non-hits off those albums: “Dumb Disco Ideas” could play in the background as Kim Cattrall tries on outfits in Mannequin; “Okay” is like intro credits music for a romantic comedy starring Corey Haim; “It Must Be the Weather” could easily score Axel Foley as he stares pensively at the ocean in a lousy Beverly Hills Cop sequel; “Dance a Little Closer” is a long-lost and rightly ignored B-side to “Let's Hear It for the Boy.
It will certainly make you dance. That’s the first, and most important thing that needs to be said about Holy Ghost!’s new album. On their sophomore LP, the Brooklyn duo reinforces their synth-pop direction and exhibits obvious throwback elements of Italo-disco and ’80s dance music. Influences from classics like Depeche Mode and New Order are blatant throughout the record, simultaneously making it a party essential while diminishing its validity in terms of originality.It’s true, music influences music, that will always be the case.