The Ghost Is Dancing - Battles On
Record Label: Sonic Unyon
Release Date: July 28, 2009
The Ghost Is Dancing (TGID) are known for the exuberance of their live shows, but they have trouble channeling that same passion and energy on their newest release, Battles On. Most of the songs on this offering are right on the cusp of being good, but they fall just short all too often. Kevin Corlis (drums and keyboard), Eric Krumins (bass), Jamie Matechuk (vocals, guitar, and keyboard), Odie Ouderkirk (keyboard), Lesley Davies (keyboard and vocals), and Dave Kates (guitar and trombone) ultimately come together to craft a release that has its moments but the promise displayed ends up being all too transitory.
TGID have been through plenty of good times and plenty of bad times, and this record then tries to encapsulate how they were able to overcome the harsh lifestyle of being a young band and losing members along the way. Kicking off the record is “Dream of a Failed Architect,” a song that wastes no time getting going and is driven by an excellent marching drum beat. Some orchestral work also nicely compliments the guitars, drums, and vocals before the song ends reminiscent of the way it began. Next is the title track, which features Matechuck and Davies harmonizing their vocals quite effectively, a good opening with a synthesizer, and some catchy verses. The guitar solo utilizes some interesting effects that make it stand it out along with the entire bridge that is designed to get everyone dancing. “Rogues and Heroes” follows with more harmonizing vocals after a slower start on the piano. This track features a catchy chorus where Matechuk sings of how the “line between rogues and heroes has never been that easy to see.” Kates’ trombone playing is an excellent addition to this song as it takes on a brief ska tone with some attention-grabbing guitar work as well.
The first three songs see the band playing at is best, then, but another entirely successful number does not come until track eleven. The fourth track, “This Thunder,” features a bland chorus and a bridge that leaves much to be desired, especially since it seems like it would be a good time for the guitar players to shine. The song isn’t all bad, though, because the verses do deliver. “Stick Together” opens up with a piano-bar feel where Davies takes over on vocals. The opening is good, but the verses are lackluster and the transition from them to the chorus just does not work well. However, the ending here is strong with the addition of the synthesizer. “Louis Riel” has a good chorus with Matechuk singing “I think it’s about time for a revolution now” and Korlis impresses throughout on the drums. What drags the song down, though, is the over-usage of background effects that are more distracting than anything else.
The album’s first true ballad is “Strange Times,” and revolves around trying to “start all over” by “finding a triumph worth my while.” Nothing really stands out about the song until the 2:30 mark where all of the instruments and the orchestra kick in to provide an impressive closing. One would expect “Battles Off” to compliment the title track, but it just does not work as well as “Battles On.” Davies sings lead vocals in the verses this time around, but the only driving force behind this song is the synthesizer. Deserving of honorable mentions are the guitar riffs and progressions, and also Corlis’ work on the drums. “Was a Universe” is the only offering that just doesn’t work from start to finish. The acoustic opening leads into an overall uninspiring effort with vocals that could be much better. Next in line is “Flashing Pictures,” clocking in at 8:38. With songs of this length, it is good to have the song progress as more time elapses, which the band succeeds at. The bad thing, though, is that the progression was absolutely needed because the first half of the song, aside from the intriguing organ-like opening, fails to impress.
So, now there are just two songs left, and, fortunately, they get things back on track. “Old Children” is another ballad of sorts with Davies again on lead vocals (her best vocal work on the record). The song builds up soon enough and blossoms into a memorable track as Matechuk chimes in singing “don’t give up on the fight/don’t give up on your dreams.” Closing the album is “Without Friends,” an interesting but good choice for a closer as it features an upbeat tone, good pacing, and relatable vocals stating that “without friends, I’d die.” This shorter song ends the album on a high note, and one can easily see it being a regular in the live show rotation.
Battles On seems to have a lot of filler material, especially after the first three tracks, and perhaps the band should have made an EP of the first three songs and the last two. Excluding “Was a Universe,” though, each song does have an enjoyable high point which may be a sign of better, more consistent albums to come. One thing that does work throughout, and that I would have liked to see more of on the record, is the harmonizing vocals of Matechuk and Davies. Individually, their voices are good (nothing spectacular but they work), but together they create something special. The Ghost Is Dancing show on this release that they have the talent to craft good songs so now they need to channel the energy of their live shows into creating a fuller release next time around.