The Black Ghosts believe club cuts also can be killer tunes.
If there’s one recurring gripe against electronic dance music from outsiders that’s sometimes hard to shake off—it’s the repetitious vocals. Dance producers know the value of repetition in their constructions of beats and rhythms, but when studio singers aren’t given many lyrical ideas, we can get tasteless icing on a fine cake. But rockers, delving deeper into electronic beats, are less apt to shed their talents for song structure just to get into a DJ’s playlist. Thus, things are changing.
Bringing songwriting back to the fore in dance music are London’s Black Ghosts. It’s only natural—the duo features Simon Lord, singer from Simian, a British rock band that never quite caught on in the States, until a French group called Justice remixed one of the singles from its Brian Eno-produced album and it exploded in international clubland. Part of Simian relaunched itself as the live electro-and remix production outfit Simian Mobile Disco—a group that tours with a tower of synthesizers and strobes, but no live vocalist.
The Black Ghosts (who spin a DJ set at Smart Bar Thursday 24 and favor electro rock from Syclops and spacey disco of Lindstrøm on mix-tapes) are a collaboration between Lord and producer/DJ Theo Keating. Lord met Keating (a.k.a. DJ Touché of big beat outfit the Wiseguys) via an Internet introduction. The band’s debut album is all the more brilliant because it’s virtually impossible to categorize. That’s no accident. According to Lord, the Black Ghosts haven’t agreed on any genre rules. “I approached the songs on the album primarily as pop songs, but I think Theo’s production is informed by his experience as a DJ, and the tracks work on the dance floor. We never wanted to make a record that fitted perfectly in one camp.”
The overly dark name was settled on after a face-to-face meeting—but it wasn’t thoughtlessly considered. Lord explains that the name was meant to suggest, “part ’60s psych band, part ’70s horror film, part ’80s street gang. I guess it’s a bit of a red herring because a lot of our music isn’t gothic and scary, but I think people are too spoon-fed.”
Lord’s carefully considered vox transform Keating’s tracks into moody, varied pop music, with the single “Repetition Kills You” (featuring Damon Albarn) as exhibit A. Tunes like “It’s Your Touch” have an ’80s tension between ennui and sophistication—shorn of the knee-jerk irony that weighs down many synth-pop efforts. Lord’s influences—Phoenix and Jamie Lidell, surprisingly enough—are more contemporary than the Pet Shop Boys.
The band’s album has taken two years to see the light—it was actually completed before the singles that preceded it, but timing appears on its side. In 2008, dance, soul, electro and pop melt into one.
To which Lord optimistically credits technology, the Net and MP3s. “I think it’s made people open to lots of different styles, too; music is less tribal than it use to be,” he says.
The Black Ghosts deejay Thursday 24 at Smart Bar.