The Holy Ghost – Color Sympathy

The Holy Ghost
Color Sympathy

The Holy Ghost has certainly made some strides in terms of overall band sound since the band’s last release, Broken Record, came out earlier this year. The band’s sound is still full of aggressively catchy riffs and rhythms, and the intense vocals still tend to sound like a cross between Britt Daniels from Spoon and an over-caffeinated Bono from U2 (which is a very, very good thing). However, the band’s raw edge seems to have disappeared on this release, as much of the ‘gritty’ sound that made Broken Record so wonderful seems to have been mixed out of these eight tracks. Still, it’s obvious through the record that the band is simply just growing a bit production-wise, as the general tone of Color Sympathy‘s tracks really isn’t all that different than the band’s last release.
After about five listens, I stopped pining for the production style of Broken Record and started appreciating Color Sympathy for what it is – a solid, catchy guitar pop album. The rhythm section here is mixed like you’d expect a modern day electric blues band section to sound, as the drums tend to be crisp and clear while the bass is thick and mixed well enough to lead the tracks with it’s deep sound (which actually tends to sound like it’s coming from ‘behind’ the drums in the mix, adding a really cool bent to most of these songs). The guitars carry a distinctive ‘crunch’ to them – even when the songs clean up the sound for a temporarily ‘jangly’ approach, the guitars still carry enough of a bite to make them stand out. The mix may not have the same spontaneous vibe of the older material, but the production work of Color Sympathy is certainly strong in its own respect.
Surprisingly, there are a few slower tracks on Color Sympathy that showcase the band’s remarkable understanding of the term ‘quiet intensity.’ On the disc’s closing track, “Pinocchio’s Nose,” the rhythm section lays down a laid-back, collected groove while the guitars spill out a nice set of chord progressions layered with sweet rhythm guitar leads. The vocals, however, just annihilate the track with emotion without having to resort to screaming or wailing – just the delivery itself is powerful enough to drive the intensity level without mashing on the volume control. The best slower number, though, is the most ‘low-fidelity’ track on the disc, “Summer Scars.” Two rhythm guitars slink through the track, weaving rhythm lines together into a delicate tapestry that sets up a great backdrop for the vocals, which literally sound as if they could break down into sobs at any moment. There’s no conventional ‘rhythm section’ on this track – “Summer Scars” basically consists of two guitars and a voice, and the band uses them well.
Of course, not everything here is mellow, since that just wouldn’t fit The Holy Ghost’s style. The disc’s title track comes off like Brit-free Brit Pop, complete with crunchy guitar rhythms and a sing along chorus hook of, “Do you know / The color sympathy?” The brightest moment of the entire disc, though, is “Sunday’s Calling,” a spastically catchy rocker that kicks off on a bed of loudly catchy rhythm guitars before settling into an almost soothing bass-and-drum driven verse structure. The verse structure slowly builds with delicate rhythm guitars and a slow progression of vocals that rise up into a shouted chorus when the guitars finally give up their slow ascent into the mix and just mash away into a reprise of the opening rhythm riff. The crunchy rhythm hook would be more than enough to make the track stand out, but the band layers a ‘lead rhythm guitar’ over top of the chord riffs that would catch more attention than a fishhook laced with $100 bills. If Greg Dulli ever would have written catchy pop hooks, I’d imagine the Afghan Whigs would’ve sounded a lot like this for a while.
The band does falter a bit on “Toledo,” which comes off as nothing more than a meaningless minute-ish instrumental, though the crunchy rhythms of “Why Why Why” help redeem the band for that misgiven moment. The vocals here are incredible, as they slowly build up the chorus (“Why can’t we be sweet? / Why why why?”) without ever pushing things over the edge. The band doesn’t deliver the obligatory ‘tension blow-off’ on this one, and the end result is one of the strongest songs The Holy Ghost has committed to release. “Berlin Wall” is a creepy, jangly number that thrives on the strong guitar work the band seems to pull out of the slower numbers here, while the band seems to use the uppity “Snow White” as a vent for their more funk-oriented, wilder aspirations for this disc. The drums are all over the place, the rhythm guitars are jagged, and the bass part is pure stop-and-go funk, though the band does pull the track together for a particularly catchy chorus structure.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t really miss the more raw and spontaneous vibe that The Holy Ghost gave off with their previous release, because I do. However, once I got past that and listened to Color Sympathy for what it is (and not what I kept wanting to mold it to be), I’d be lying if I said anything except that this is another beyond solid release from the band. With the exception of the somewhat pointless instrumental track jammed in the middle of this record, every track on Color Sympathy is a piece of solid guitar pop (though the guitar sound admittedly gives The Holy Ghost a very crunchy, rocking feel). The mix of slower and up-tempo material keeps the disc sounding fresh with repeated listens, and the intensity and emotion in these recordings keeps the material from sounding ‘flat,’ as some guitar-oriented bands seem to do. Man, I love catchy guitar rock, especially when it’s done properly. Recommended.