ARTIST: New Age Healers
RELEASE DATE: 05/04/16
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
Ghosts is the debut full length album from band/project New Age Healers; a psychedelic/punk/post-punk outfit from Seattle in the US of A. The band is run, written and recorded by Owen Murphy; the sole player who has tackled the amazing feat of playing every instrument featured on the album, singing every song, writing every lyric and producing every note. This in itself brings the very primitive ethos of the album together; combining the DIY mentality of punk music with the actual presence of punk stylings within the music itself. The album was recorded at Murphy’s home studio in what began as a return to roots; Murphy was once in league with Ben Weasel… A crucial member of the infamous punk band ‘Screeching Weasel’. In fact, Murphy is perhaps most well known as the host of the Weasel Radio Podcast, which commentated and summed up all things punk. And although this all sounds like a once vibrant punk rocker returning to the studio to spit in our ears about capitalism in an attempt to stay relevant… It isn’t… In fact, it’s quite the experimental piece of music material.
The album opens with ‘Lost Your Mind’ a psychedelic piece of slow and tampering alternative rock. Murphy’s slight, monotone and breathy vocals hum over the top of quietly fuzzy guitars and the shake of tambourine. The drum beat, slow and intelligent, acts as a great push for the quiet drone-pace of the song. This song perhaps speaks for the greater part of the album when I say that it is hugely conceptual… To the point where the lyrics tell a disjointed, experimental story… The YouTube description seems to agree; as Murphy describes cryptically about secret agents on the run, hallucinating and trying to exploit a leader architype of some description. This goes hand in hand with the lyrics, which seem as cryptic as the aforementioned description. The next song, ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ speaks to the listener in a similar vein, with its imagery, descriptions of war and violence. But all in all the song is let down by some tongue in cheek lyrics; almost redeemed by the chorus line. The instrumentation is minimalist and tries to emulate slow punk coupled with indie… With this in mind, Murphy thinks smart here and doesn’t allow the song to broch the two-minute mark… But it still seems over-slow and sounds like elements of the song are forced psychedelia. The title track (Ghosts) sounds similar to an Ocean Colour Scene track with its strumming guitar and thick but soft bass. This track is hugely enjoyable when Murphy begins to use the ancient art of creating groove music… The intro is seeped with fun and enjoyable drumming and as the vocals ease in, a fantastic, bright, element of Murphy’s music contrasts itself with his dark lyricism; amounting to a stellar track in cool, sun roof down, swinging-punk.
‘Snow Angels’ seems slight, with echoing vocals and a similar guitar that was used prior. The track is much quieter and slow than others and is brilliantly written. But as the track goes on the vocals fit less and less with the swaying of the music. At this point of the album, the elements of post-punk that have always been close by New Age Healers finally bubble to the surface. ‘Shadows vs. Los Angeles’ is brilliant; the deep drums and instruments present the listener with post-punk in its most pure form. The bass line stays thick as Murphy sings with more ease and a lot more swagger than previous songs; this is perhaps the albums highlight. In a similar way to that of the post-punk element becoming more and more used, Murphy begins to also use a warped sense of pop music more and more, making the music all the more powerful; his sounds move from a wacky Psychedelic Furs sound to more of a full, post-punk influenced sound, reminiscent of bands like Joseph K. Elements of the fantastic eighties groove seep in, as does the jittering sounds of experimentation and this may all be heard on ‘A Song Called Screwing’. With its echoing drums and just the right amount of vocal interaction, the song could have easily spread for ages; like a 1980’s alternative classic. The album concludes with ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Yeah Yeah Song’, a Dandy Warhol’s inspired track, with scratchy-clean punk guitars. Murphy again uses his spun pop styling here on the chorus in which the title words are elaborated on, over and over. It feels like, finally, after toying on and on with indie rock, that New Age Healers have finally moved away to a more complex, deeper sound; a contemplation on the albums evolving sound and Murphy’s well harnessed vocals.
Initially, after I had given the album a few spins, I thought I knew what I thought about it. Then I gazed upon the supporting art, the cover, the titles sprawled all over the videos and the final taste of confusion; the lyrics. Is something deep going on here? Is this heavier than we might believe? I was confused and then intrigued… Is there a story hidden deep within? If so, why does it involve secret agents, drugs and an attack on a Midwestern city? Then I thought, ‘you know, perhaps mister Murphy has pulled something off here’. Is the album one big concept? One big piece of pondering on a few things society is arguing about? What of the stories conclusion? Are the art, the pictures, the images, the subtitled music videos and the subtle hints of narration in the lyrics tied together somehow? Why is everything so enigmatic? But ultimately, these are all just theories… Albeit a group of theories supported swiftly with clean evidence. And after all of this, how do we really listen to Ghosts? As a gigantic concept album, reaching and commentating on things much larger than the music? Or do we throw away the interconnectedness of the story to focus and critique each song? What a debate could be forged upon this very album.
As a track by track listen, this album begins quite uninterestingly. The songs sit between being a focused listen and background noise. Couple this with the expressionless/minimalist stylings of the music (which aren’t really pulled off with much originality or conviction) and you have quite a clichéd listening experience. However, as the album progresses, the music becomes intelligent, deep, thought-provoking and stylish. Almost all the second half of the album is touched with a mesh of fantastically blended genres such as post-punk, experimental rock and pop and punk. The production is also great, especially the mixing and the fact that Murphy has spent substantial time tampering with each instrument to create greater instrumental presence when intended. As a story, as a concept, it is a step ahead of itself, even the listener, but is that a good thing? I believe so. I think the concept (on the most part) is brilliant; speaking volumes and telling a story while never giving any easy hints away to the listener. When a concept can be pulled off successfully, whether it be subtle or music crafted around a storyline, praise should be praised… And I believe that New Age Healers should be praised for that. The music swings and sways, but never whispers directly in the listener’s ear. Rather they indulge this through subliminal message, lyrics and sound.
‘Ghosts’ is available to buy/download right now from: newagehealers.bandcamp.com/releases
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.