Music is a beautifully rewarding and satisfying event. It is one of the utmost blessings we could receive as lowly human beings. This is not only because it can enthuse all of our senses with its aesthetic expression but because we can remember how it makes us feel for the rest of our life. And with every passing year comes at least one album— at least one — that can make us feel invigorated and passionate about music like no other album can. Such a momentous occasion is hard to come by but DM Stith has achieved just that with his debut, Heavy Ghost. Here is something glorious and admirable and one that will surely be considered as one of the best albums of the year.
For someone who first started out as something of a genius graphic designer, David Stith was discovered when he helped Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond record her band’s debut. It was with this that Stith began writing music under his chosen moniker and with every strand of humanity and a compassionate outlook on life; Stith has delivered nothing short of a masterpiece.
The piano is Stith’s primary instrument of choice and it provides the backbone for the phenomenal melodies heard throughout this album. On “Braid of Voices,” Stith uses it to not only introduce what will soon propel into a mammoth pull of swirling strings and clamoring voices but to gorgeously close it out. His opening whispers of “When the ghosts of me refuse to speak” end with him recalling his words, “A braid of voices, David, David.” This is supported by a flourishing piano line that then ends with an abruptly adjusted minor chord. All of that leads into album closer, “Wig,” which has some of the most dissonant and loudly buzzing array of strings I have heard in a long time. It’s striking and moving at the same time and these amazing musical moments are sprinkled all over. There are scaled-back affairs like the quiet “Morning Glory Cloud” that find Stith singing, “I have to breathe, I have to breathe, I have a dream and it’s gone” and then there are raucous tromps like “Spirit Parade” which find Stith just yelping away at the vocals. But whatever it is, it all seems to sound absolutely perfect under Stith’s control.
I’m not sure where Stith has learned to make all of this music because it’s the work of a tailored and accomplished musician. “Pigs” starts with rolling strings of cellos and basses that slowly creep into some kind of ghostly chamber of voices surrounding Stith’s Daniel Rossen-like delivery. The vocal melody sounds nearly identical to Thom Yorke’s line in “Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs Out of the Sky)” but the music and Stith’s later vocals sound like something out of Joanna Newsom’s Ys.
Carefully crafted music is omnipresent and it also comes with style changes like the acoustically-charged “Thanksgiving Moon,” which finds Stith in full falsetto form. Then, when you couldn’t really ask for more, horns and saxes are introduced in the most moving manner; this is superbly created music. Suddenly, this is all highlighted by the tumbling eighth notes of marimba-it’s magical and these spectrally haunting forays would make both Ed Droste and Rossen proud.
Surely, I am just rambling and listing off, moment after moment, of brilliance but it’s justifiable because it is ubiquitous. The music Stith has created is out of this world in every possible way. Not only is it poignant and capable but it’s exceptionally stirring and lavishly orchestrated. Put on your headphones and just bop your head to the splendid musicianship that is “Creekmouth.” Evoking Yeasayer, stomping drums, bari sax accompaniments, driving percussion and ethereal atmospherics make for one of 2009’s best musical moments.
The decision to include those stomping notes of piano on the brief, “Isaac’s Song,” is flawless and to make it the opener is even smarter. A discerning ear will be able to hear the pedals as they crash to the ground and spring back up for damage, the clank of the mallet instruments as they crash onto the keys and those voices, breathing in and out, waiting to release the next layer of sounds. That, in a snapshot, is what DM Stith is all about; someone who knows what he is doing but who has the conviction to know just how much to give. Everything on Heavy Ghost is a work of pure genius; this is the music of your life and it’s the kind that needs to be rewarded in any possible way because truthfully, honestly, sincerely, it’s something endearingly special.