One of the first things youre likely to notice about Simon Joyners Ghosts is that it clocks in at a whopping 86 minutes long even by traditional double album standards. Of course, that fact alone doesnt warrant backlash, as long as the album in question carries enough ideas to sustain interest for the amount of time it takes to watch most of a movie.
But it only takes a handful of these minutes to realize that Joyner doesnt really care what you do with your time. As opposed to a collection of fully-realized and fine-tuned song ideas in the vein of Blonde On Blonde or Daydream Nation landmark double albums Joyner claims inspired this effort Ghosts plays more like one continuous, tone-wavering rant from a troubled friend grasping at a few elusive moments of clarity amidst 86 minutes of unfiltered blathering.
As with much of his prior work, if one definitive thing can be said about Ghosts, its that Joyners songs are capital-P Personal, and not in some still-pleasant-sounding, Sea Change way. His singing voice is jarringly atonal throughout, and its primary accompaniment is a full band of overwhelming string parts that are more aimlessly erratic than supportive. Ghosts is so heavy on these elements that by the time one of its few truly rewarding moments rolls around, the damage is already long done, and it cant possibly redeem the exhaustion brought on by combing through so much sheer self-indulgence.
It should be noted, though, that a few such positive moments are buried in here. If I Left Tomorrow is a strong highlight of the albums superior second half: a profound, if surprisingly straightforward, folk number on which Joyner ponders his legacy. The Tyrant, on the other hand, is a rare case of Joyner making productive use of his beloved string noise by layering it above a sedated yet rock solid bass line, creating some engaging tension towards the apex of the nearly nine-minute track.
Joyner is still hopelessly committed to being the artists artist who creates strictly as a means of self-medication, with hardly a second thought towards his listeners. While its encouraging to see him staying ambitious after 20 years, Ghosts proves that ambition doesnt automatically make for a rewarding listen.
Essential Tracks: If I Left Tomorrow