A moody and dubby debut from a new signing to Erol Alkan’s Phantasy imprint
Sometimes, just sometimes, amidst electronic music’s hum and thrum, an album comes along, sticks its head above the parapet and grabs you by the scruff of the neck, demanding to be heard. So it is with Ghost Culture’s self-titled debut. Made by enigmatic bedroom auteur James Greenwood (his bio, somewhat mysteriously, describes him as “emerging from the London fog”), it’s an album that bristles with confidence, exhibiting deft electronic motifs and flourishes at every turn, showcasing a serious rising talent.
Having worked as a studio engineer on Daniel Avery’s acclaimed ‘Drone Logic’ LP, Greenwood was signed by Phantasy Records boss Erol Alkan after hearing just one track (‘How’) on SoundCloud. Alkan subsequently invited Greenwood to work at his Phantasy Sound studio, where the pair poured their creativity into developing and building the 10 tracks for this album. And boy, what an incredible, electrifying first album it is.
Written using a vintage Korg Mono/Poly synth, the cornerstone of Ghost Culture’s hugely seductive sound, it’s a multi-layered triumph, as suited to the adrenaline of the dancefloor as it is to indulgent headphone listening. But however you experience it, Greenwood’s music is all-engulfing. Wonderfully resonant, alluringly stark and crepuscular, hugely rich in mood and tone, his plangent, dystopian groove feels like the beckoning of a distant, austere future.
The trio of singles – released over the last year to much critical acclaim – form the first part of the album, and as a strategic preface to the remaining tracks, they’re a killer statement of intent. ‘Mouth’ gradually creeps and builds from dubby, vaguely unearthly beginnings into shimmering, melodic, Depeche-meets-house territory. Greenwood’s detached vocal (recorded using a Tannoy microphone ripped from an old tank, a canny Alkan trick) adds an otherworldly vulnerability – think emotionless android – to the glacial backdrop and nagging beat of ‘Giudecca’. The coldwave appeal of ‘Arms’ even veers into acid-fuelled, LFO-style IDM. And so it continues: from the head-bobbing Kraftwerkian electro of ‘Glass’ and the disembodied voltaic flurry of ‘Lying’, through to the hypnotic automaton funk of ‘Lucky’ and the beguiling moonlit intimacy of ‘The Fog’.
Underground dance music, visionary bedroom electro, call it what you will. ‘Ghost Culture’ is a prodigious rite of passage, a gloriously woozy and breathtakingly ornate soundtrack for the witching hour and beyond, full of mesmeric atmospheres and textures, with not a single dud moment to speak of. More excitingly, with Erol Alkan describing it as “just the tip of the iceberg”, this is only the beginning.
Ghost Culture, then: out of the shadows and into the light. After such a strong and assertive opener, it’ll be really interesting to see where he goes from here, but let’s not jump the gun. Right now, this feels like a power surge, a real shot in the arm for electronic music. You’d need to be made of stone not to fall hard for its wraith-like, esoteric charms.