by michaela barton (@MichaelaBarton_)
In an interview, Renata Zeiguer explains she wrote Old Ghost while watching Twin Peaks for the first time. She describes enjoying “abstract darkness and also an abstract beauty”, where subconsciousness blends into reality and “everything then becomes skewed and questionable”. During this time, she was also dealing with a period of depression and she relates the show’s distortion of reality to her feelings while dealing with her depression. The influence of all these components can certainly be heard throughout the album. Constant musical distortion, jarring guitar chords and high, quavering vocals all weave together to translate the Lynch-style oddity of mental illness.
The instrumental arrangement on this album resurrects ghosts of past composers and hints at classic jazz genres without becoming a jazz album. Far from it. Though it may borrow jazz chords and vocal stylings occasionally, these elements are translated and distorted to modern electronic dreamy indie-art. Renata’s vocal stylings flicker between Joanna Newsom and Bjork in light quirkiness, to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald in soft, jazz-like musings. The lyrics are abstract and artistic to match the unusual musicality. The careful and purposeful pairing of odd and often chilling musical stylings with poetic lyrics work in harmony and crafts deeply interesting songs.
The album opens with Wayside, which has chilled, low-fi 70s style guitar ambiance that offers a delusional edge before cascading into a pulled back, almost grunge style chorus. Renata’s voice lifts to a haunting falsetto screech that mirrors the distant sounding, psychedelic guitar riffs. All these elements create an unsettling old-timey atmosphere, like the musical equivalent of black and white camp-classic horror films with poorly designed cardboard cut-out costumes of mystical beasts from the deep.
A running theme lyrically is fear and confusion, with Below being the most evident example of this. The lyrics tell of sinking, possibly into an anxiety attack or a deep depressive state. The continued floating style of instrumentals and dreamy, quaveringly high vocals help form a dissociating feeling for the listener. “I can’t breathe, doubling the hydrogen, sky above, or floor below” describes the feeling of plunging deeper into an episode. The circling receptiveness of lyrics also portray the inner thoughts during an episode – a feeling of being trapped within a seemingly vast and suffocating experience with an occasional floating hope that you’ll “be surfacing, surfacing in no time”.
Even seemingly lighter topics of love can’t escape the existential experience of over-analysing and dread. After All is about dating and goes from describing the need to post online about your relationship for social validation, to the nagging paranoia and negativity that signal an uneasy relationship status. The guitar occasionally wavers off in distortion at the end of lines to mimic the unstable thoughts plaguing the relationship. Before the line “part of me is disappearing, losing some control” the instrumentals collapse into a distorted mass, with one lone falsetto guitar screaming through the fog of sound, which is the perfect musical description for confusion and constant paranoia.
A similar theme, Dreambone is about love also, but more about the abstract hope that we will all one day experience it. In this song, Renata has delicate wafting vocals that lift and fall like a calm tranquil feather in the wind. The song describes the desire to find a partner and no longer be alone – “hunting for the bone, make-believing home”. There’s an element of delusional desperation in the lyrics as they describe the hunt – “now they’re running fast … sifting through the mud … They won’t die out, too hungry and insane.” And the inevitable hopelessness of the search is repeated throughout “they’ll learn to live alone”.
One standout from the album is Follow Me Down, which again is about love, but this time the desire for a potential partner to follow her down into the madness and obsession of it. It starts slow and relaxing with dreamy instrumentals that create a lazy Sunday afternoon feel. Occasionally the melodic construction is reminiscent of easy-jazz in 20s bars. Renata’s voice during the song is lovely and keeps her hint of vocal quirkiness.
The album ends with Gravity (Old Ghost). This last song is about never being able to fully escape fear: “A cloud is hovering, standing permanently still old ghost that I can’t kill”. Renata sings through the constant nagging anxiety that she’ll never be fully free from whatever plagues her mind, that she’s “never gonna lose (the) old voice repeating all the things I can’t undo”. The imagery she invokes while describing this feeling is perfectly creepy, creating a sense of being stalked by a “man on the ceiling” and “a phantom limb” brushing against her that’ll soon wrap around her neck “choke, choking in the night”. Renata’s vocals match the lyrics with serene haunting beauty and the classic, 20s style key choices in chords creates a nostalgic feeling that captures the essence of an old ghost. Musically, vocally and lyrically, it is a stand-out and a perfect way to close this melancholic and poignant album.
This relatively short album with only nine songs is very strong but not without some criticism. All songs on the album try to overt basic structure, however inevitably repeat their created structure throughout the album. As interesting as a more free-form construction is, it does, however, cause listeners difficulty in remembering songs and the continuation of this structure through the album can cause difficulty differentiating each song from one another, especially as they all seem to be written in a similar key using the same hazy techniques on guitar.
The creepy distortion of reality present in this album is fascinating and rather wonderful. Though some listeners may be put off by a seemingly unapproachable style, key and lyrical theme, when able to fully immerse yourself and appreciate all the musical components, this album truly is a treat.