As far as tastemakers go, Ghostly International continues to take steps forward. In the past five years the electronic imprint has managed to define a sound that is recognizably their own, and in the meantime has been untouched by hype machines and still remains as consistent as ever.
In 2003 Ghostly released a compilation of label artists and guest spots under the banner of Idol Tryouts. The collection gave first glimpse to Ghostly’s diversity and exceptionality with tracks from Dabrye, Midwest Product, Osborne, Charles Manier, Kill Memory Crash, Dykehouse, Kiln, Outputmessage, James Cotton, and Matthew Dear. The roster was an exercise in electro that showed off a plethora of different styles that extended far beyond the publicly recognized techno and IDM.
As any tastemaker would, Ghostly International has stayed on the progressive side. This year finds the follow-up to the first comp, this one appropriately dubbed Idol Tryouts Two: Ghostly International Vol. Two. The second time around the vision has become more broad – the comp is a double-disc release featuring 27 total tracks, 18 of which come from artists not included on Idol Tryouts. New to the works are Solvent, Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys, Mobius Band, Daniel Wang, Benoit Pioulard, Lawrence, Loscil, Deru, Sybarite, Cepia, Greg Davis, Lusine + David Wingo, Aeroc, Christopher Willits, Terre’s New Wuss Fusion, Twine, Tim Hecker, and Richard Devine.
The gamut is still run in terms of subgenre coverage, only this time each disc features a specific style direction. Disc one is under the guise of Avant-Pop, which as the label explains, “follows no formula, but you know it when you hear it.” The details of this idea are that the songs are created using electronic instruments in an eclectic but pop-flavored nature. This doesn’t rule out the likes of groups such as Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys and Mobius Band, who some could argue as mismatches due to their rock stylings, because their characters are built in whole by electronic elements.
For many, disc one is the more amicable listen of the two. Matthew Dear, Kill Memory Crash, Outputmessage, Dabrye, and Charles Manier turn out solid tracks that only further their mainstay presence with the label. Newbies Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys, Benoit Pioulard, and (to some extent a newbie) Solvent are the disc’s other highlights.
Skeletons goes the route of weird, bouncy, 808-beat, falsetto vocal mish mash and comes out as perhaps the best track of Idol Tryout Two. Benoit Pioulard, who has upcoming full-length material in the pipes on the Kranky label, offers a moody and experimental respite from synth melodies and prominent beat production. Solvent has been a rising stock with his techno/ambient/experimental sounds.
Disc two of the compilation is much more cerebral. In reference, I hesitate to say ‘experimental’ because most of the songs have a formulated direction, and the term seems more to apply to that which is stumbled upon. The disc is subtitled SMM, a reference to a subgenre that dodges specific definition by many and Ghostly offers a couple stabs at with “Sensual Machine Music” and “Stately Modern Melodies.” More important than terms is the corresponding feel that is associated with SMM. For the most part it can be described as music outlining a technological atmosphere with textures, samples, and rhythms provided by electronic (synth, sequencers, effects, etc.) instrumentation. The most obvious difference from the Avant-Pop disc is that most of the SMM disc tracks are without vocals and nearly experimental in nature, with a palette that slips more to the back of one’s ear rather than requiring a great amount of attention to enjoy.
Standouts from disc two can be found in Loscil’s leadoff “Umbra”, Deru’s “Straight Speak” which may remind some of an ambient Dabrye, and Aeroc’s “A Little Something” which taps out an acoustic guitar line over Autechre-infected beat play.