Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Music Review: Thought Forms - Ghost Mountain

Thought Forms – Ghost Mountain

When I listen to new music, or to a new album by a band or musician I already know and love, I listen to it on my headphones. I like to be completely focused on the music and the lyrics, and let it win me over without any distractions. When I first put Thought Forms Ghost Mountain on I was in a rush to get to work and put it on while I was on my way out the door, distracted by other thoughts on my mind. Those distractions only lasted seconds. I don’t remember my journey to work, I must have done it on auto-pilot. I don’t remember if I was sitting or standing in the subway car, if I grabbed a cup of tea on my way or how many cigarettes I lit up. All I remember is the way the music grabbed me by my insides and twisted them around, threw a few punches in there and then wrapped me in a soft, warm blanket. Apart from all of the emotions that the music sent me spinning through, all I remember thinking was “Oh. My. God.”. I may be prone to hyperbole in some situations, but when I say that this album is amazing I mean it with no exaggeration. It is amazing.

Nothing is as deep as the rivers we keep – Sans Soleil

I’ve followed Thought Forms for years, ever since seeing them play at Cake Shop in NYC in 2006, spending time with them on different occasions in NYC and England, seeing them grow through their first album, solo projects, different live sets and ultimately opening for Portishead on their North American Tour in late 2011. Since then they have recorded their second album, Ghost Mountain, while still continuing to tour and play live shows on a regular basis (although I wish they were able to make it to the States more often than they do). 

Ghost Mountain kicks off with Landing, a dark epic of doom which drags you into a bleak box where you feel like your screams go unheard while the music builds incessantly and then dies down, giving you a chance to breathe: beauty within darkness. The album follows on with Ghost Mountain – You and Me, a respite in the world of darkness created by Landing, beautiful soft riffs, building up in harmony, slowly adding melody and background vocals. These sounds come from within, two people together somewhere in the wilderness, holding hands, no words, together and not alone anymore. Charlie’s angelic voice is swirling around you, you feel lost inside your own mind that seems to be melded with the mind of the person next to you, two people in their own matching worlds.

Frozen in time , Oceans of blood, Electric hum, Over again, hiding beneath acres of history, And I wait for you to come, To come around – Ghost Mountain – You and Me

Sans Soleil is the first single on the album (see the video below), and is the first song on the album that departs from the mainly instrumental sound Thought Forms had before. Charlie and Deej’s voices respond to each other, and as always their guitars communicate perfectly together, creating harmonies that sound beautifully natural and organic. The video matches the song perfectly:

Burn me Clean is my own personal favourite on Ghost Mountain. It is a call, a request, standing on a mountain in the wilderness, calling out to the world with the use of a flute, guitars, drums and a voice. This song is absolutely amazingly beautiful – it could be used as part of a movie soundtrack, standing alone, surrounded only by clouds and stars; in a clearing in a dark forest; standing around a fire, invoking a higher power. The song evokes elements of witchcraft and paganism with an underlying intensity of gloom, heavy guitar sounds waiting to suddenly burst into destruction before disappearing into the background again, forever present, always ready to reappear and crush the sound, but surrounded by tenderly ethereal sounds and vocals. Always an element of menace in beauty, and when the guitar breaks out it is as if your heart does too. Destruction to create renewal, depressing but ultimately uplifting.  A paradox of a song that won’t leave you after the first listen. Close your eyes and let the music take you where it is supposed to take you. You may not come back exactly the same.

Only Hollow takes you away from the lonely mountain or forest and brings you back to this world. Charlie’s vocals sound less ethereal and angelic here and more angry and aggressive, the perfect segway between the darkness of Burn Me Clean and the delicate beauty of the next song, Afon. Afon is like a beautiful butterfly, flying high above you, a song that you cannot contain but that will not let you go. I would love to hear this one live to see what Thought Forms do with it.

Fine white lines of light join us eye to eye, From coast, through air, in waves, Blood lines fade, bleach light you made – Afon

I’ve heard Song for Junko live many times and am so glad it made it on to Ghost Mountain in its latest format. The piece is a back and forth, layered double vocals and guitar riffs talking to each other with Guy’s fantastic drumming consistently leading the way from beginning to end. The piece is a momentum of build-up and release, harmony and utter distortion. 

To close the album out, O provides the eeriest sounds yet. There is no way to categorize this song as it has a pure Thought Forms sound that calls to the gothic, dark side in me that I still carry around with love. Charlie’s voice sounds utterly angelic at times while Deej’s sounds completely demonic in the background. Impending doom with a sudden change about five minutes into the song as it breaks into anger and palpable pain, to go back to the initial sound. A flash of anger within a time of search and questioning. Brilliant.

Waiting for good fate to knock, He don’t see those good things for his mind is too small, A tight narrow space, and the space is not black, No it’s not even black and it’s all your own doing – O

It’s not even the end of January yet and I know that Ghost Mountain is going to be in the Top Ten of my favourite releases this year. Own it and listen to it loud – let it take you deep down inside and far away at the same time.

Charlie and Deej took the time to answer some questions that I had for them in regards to the making of Ghost Mountain and other related interests. For further information on the band see the links below the interview.

Jade:  Although Ghost Mountain definitely contains the signature Thought Forms sound it has definitely taken a step away from the sound of your first album, mainly with the addition of more lyrics and vocals. Is there a reason for this, or was it mainly an organic process?
TF: It just happened naturally… when we first started out in 2004 we were totally instrumental but as time went on and we became more confident we started adding some more vocal stuff into our improv bits when we were playing live… that spilled over into the writing process. 
Jade:  How do your songs mainly come together? Is each of you in charge of certain parts that come together as one track, or do you each write your own songs? Describe a typical Thought Forms song writing process.
TF: Most of the time we just get together and things evolve from improvisations and if we’re lucky and something feels good, we’ll be able to sort of remember what we were doing or the recorder will have been switched on! Actually, just the other day I was going through some old recordings from jams back in 2010 and there were the very first recordings of what became “Ghost Mountain You And Me” and “Song For Junko” and it was cool to see how much they’d changed in the past three years!
Other times one of us will bring in a more set, structured idea for a song and we’ll work on it together, like with the tracks “Sans Soleil” and “Only Hollow”. Some of the tracks developed through playing live over three years but we wrote and recorded those within about three weeks! It was a new way of working for us.

Jade: In the past year you have been on tour with both Portishead and Beak>. Have either band influenced your music or live act at all?
TF: Deej :
I think there have been influences, it’s hard not to when you play with great musicians! Geoff Barrow giving us advice, Ade Utley showing us new guitar tricks in his guitar orchestra, Jim Barr being a great producer on our record, Matt Williams singing and joking with us... It all gets stored somewhere!

Jade: Do you have a specific moment during the tours that really sticks out and/or is memorable to you? (Different answers per band member are fine!)
TF: Deej : Yeah - when Guy thought Whales lay eggs. Very amusing. 
Apart from having the pleasure of seeing Portishead...
I think playing in amazing venues that fill up fast before you go on. 
Charlie : So many amazing / funny / surreal moments. I suppose playing wise, when we played with Portishead in the big outdoor venues – that was amazing and very, very scary, but beautiful. And like Deej said, getting to see Portishead every night! 

Jade: How did the making/recording of Ghost Mountain differ from that of the previous album?
TF: Firstly, we had a lot more time to do it. The first album was recorded in just a few days and we went into the studio trying to replicate what we do live – we all played together in the same room and there were very few overdubs.
With Ghost Mountain, we had much more studio time from the outset but also, we’d decided / realized that trying to “capture” what we are live on a record was not something that would ever really work… Making a record is a different thing entirely and we embraced that this time round and really made use of the studio.
Also, this was our first time working with a producer. Jim really helped us to grow as a band and develop our ideas. It was great to have someone there as an objective outside influence and better yet, one who makes music that we really love and who, through seeing us play many, many times, really knew us and understood what we were about and what we wanted to achieve.

Jade: Who are your main influences (does not need to be limited to music)?
TF: Deej : I guess the music scene in the 90's played a major part in my guitar playing... Listening to Pixies, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth but those came from friends and people I met that introduced it to me. I'm like a sponge and I find it important to be open in learning new things. 

Jade: What are your plans for 2013? Will you be touring after the release of Ghost Mountain?
TF: We’re going on tour in Europe right when the album comes out, supporting Esben and the Witch -  we’re really looking forward to that.
We plan to tour a lot this year though most of it is unconfirmed at this point.
We’ll also be starting work on writing new music as well as doing lots of visual stuff.

Jade: What is each of your favourite song on the album and why?
TF: Deej : I like them all because they're a lot different from each other but still flow together. 
I do have a soft spot for "Burn Me Clean" because the way it was made... We played an improv gig at the Croft in Bristol and the song just came out of us naturally, it was like we invoked something and luckily we recorded it. After the show we listened to it and then slowly molded into a structure. I love how the song grows from eastern sounds to dark heavy drones and then to an epic explosion of beautiful noise. 
Charlie : It’s hard to choose, they’re all quite different and I’m quite changeable!
“Afon” was a song that we played live a few times and had tried to record demos of but we were close to discarding it as we couldn’t get it right. Jim got such a great drum sound and through his suggestions it ended up sounding exactly how we’d wanted it to without knowing how to achieve it. So for that reason, I’m especially pleased with that one!

Jade:  You also have solo projects that you each work on outside of Thought Forms. Please provide more information on them and links if possible!
TF: Charlie : I make music on my own under the name Silver Stairs Of Ketchikan  - I started doing it in 2006 and have done a few gigs since 2007, but very few.  To date, the recordings have been mostly improvised, one-take kinda things but I have some more structured stuff that I’ve been sitting on for far too long that I hope to get recorded this year.
Deej : Yes, I have a solo project that’s named after me... Deej Dhariwal
I use my solo work to experiment and try different things. It’s essentially bedroom jams full of drones, loops and melody.

Thought Forms Website
Thought Forms Facebook Page 
Invada Records
Thought Forms in New York 2011 Photo Set

No comments: