The Ghost Is Dancing – The Darkest Spark

The Ghost Is Dancing
The Darkest Spark

How far can pop maintain its shape? As much as producers like Timbaland do to permute popular music, structural and technical characteristics have changed little: AABA, verse-chorus-verse, major chord progressions in 4/4, two-bar melodies, and so forth. Is novelty, then, simply in the service of recapitulation? I can think of a dozen bands, for instance, that have preceded the Trail of Dead in employing the chord progression to “Worlds Apart.” Still, this isn’t a poor state of affairs as long as retroflexive bands double back to pick up the scent, refining latent ideas in the process — like the Strokes, for their part, have done for the Velvet Underground. Indeed, clever reuse can serve quite as well as invention, as The Ghost Is Dancing demonstrate convincingly. Now, I swear I’ve heard almost every single component of The Darkest Spark, down to the reverse guitar of the title track, used before in other past, irretrievable contexts, but the sum is so undeniably appealing, even magnetic, that it makes a wholly satisfying spin in the Canadian pop centrifuge.

“September ‘01” plays almost as somber as it sounds, all descending patterns and sepulchral pace, but for the guitar that sneaks in at the end: a bit jangly, it must be a harbinger. Henceforth, the joyful noise never ceases. Like Architecture in Helsinki and I’m From Barcelona—more famed groups of estimable size and restless approaches to indie pop—The Ghost Is Dancing create music en masse, and the delirium of unbridled mutual creativity coursing through The Darkest Spark often approaches frenzy. The band’s correspondence to the former is particularly striking; there are several songs, like the buoyant “Shuttles and Planes,” that could slip into the forthcoming AiH full-length all but unnoticed.

Not, it is important to note, as a b-side; producer Dale Morningstar gave these songs the treatment they merit: escalator-synths and multi-tracked vocals buffed to a shine and noisemakers replete, all rolled together down an inclined plane until they’re just beyond reclamation and mania ensues. This vigorous irrepressibility, tied directly to the general merriment that serves as the album’s theme, is one of the most appealing characteristics of The Darkest Spark. The Concretes and Architecture in Helsinki remain obvious touchstones, but unruliness spoils a perfect match, mostly because the chief vocalist—a difficult figure to identify at times—often strays into a near-screaming intensity more akin, oddly enough, to Win Butler howling on “Wake Up” than Cameron Byrd crooning on “It’5!.” Above all, despite a somewhat mitigating reliance on second-hand chord progressions and instrumentation, this band simply writes killer pop songs. “Wall of Snow” is just as catchy as Architecture’s “Cemetery,” “Organ” sounds like Beulah at their best, and “Arrivals” caps things as succinctly as Of Montreal’s recent “We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling.” Precisely.

They also convince me that, in an era defined more than anything by dwindling natural resources, the pop machine will continue to function, running its convection current, with no end in sight. Moreover, as long as groups like this—a company of friends rejoicing in a creative life—go on, pop music will continue to carry as much meaning as ever. So, fuck forward thinking. If a band puts as much life into a record as The Ghost Is Dancing did here, it doesn’t matter where their record collections are pointing.