Full disclosure: I’m a fan of 80s music, and disco sounds, and most everything DFA Records puts out. So when Holy Ghost! of DFA Records released their new album Dynamics digitally on September 10, their reputation as a band that employs older sounds to create new dance music demanded a download. Unfortunately, the record as a whole comes off as uneven, with parts that are extremely compelling and others that are equally disappointing.
I discovered Holy Ghost! on an incredible DFA compilation put out in 2010. That compilation featured their track “I Know, I Hear.” That song quickly became one of my favorites on the compilation with its excellent weaving of synthesizers and live drums. Their unique sound positioned them as an up and coming voice in the indie dance genre.
Holy Ghost! is one of a few groups that took the “dance music for people who don’t like EDM” torch from LCD. Like LCD Soundsystem, Holy Ghost! pays homage to dance music from decades past while putting a modern spin on it. Dynamics has elements of the 80s synth pop sound pioneered by groups like New Order, and incorporates some disco, much like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. James Murphy’s influence can’t be missed; echoes of LCD Soundsystem ring in the simple, thumping bass lines and the live drums in parts of the record.
But Dynamics lacks a true hit. Brotherhood has “Bizarre Love Triangle,” Random Access Memories has “Get Lucky,” and Sound of Silver has “Someone Great.” Holy Ghost! sounds like they are heading in the more pop direction with this record, but if you go pop and fail to write many catchy hooks, it falls flat.
That’s not to say that the album is bad, just that it feels like it could be better. Highlights include the first two tracks “Okay” and “Dumb Disco Ideas.” These songs are high in energy and are immensely danceable. They have the most LCD Soundsystem in them. The catchiest song on the album is “Dance A Little Closer.” It, along with “Bridge and Tunnel,” has the electro-disco sound that Daft Punk made cool again this year.
What’s striking about this album is the difference in tone between the first and second half. While the first half is dancey and fun, the second half comes off as very melancholy. The second half uses the New Order 80s synth pop sound to achieve this effect. Unfortunately, the overreliance on this sound will turn a lot of listeners off, as 80s techno has a somewhat negative stigma. Even as a fan of that sound, this part of the album came off as overproduced.
My favorite track from this more melancholy section is “In The Red.” It’s the kind of song that makes you think longingly about the good times in your past that you wish you could relive over and over. I find myself often pushing repeat when this song ends; I wish it were twice as long.
The most disappointing aspect of this album is that the energy totally peters off in the second half. When I listen to it, I find myself listening to the first 5 or 6 tracks and then putting something else on.
Here’s the thing: Dynamics will appeal only to those with a specific taste in dance music. Several elements of this album will undoubtedly turn some listeners off. Even if you have the specific taste that this record requires, you’ll probably find that only the first half appeals to you.
That’s the frustrating thing about this album. The first half has all the elements of a killer dance record; it’s high in energy, danceable, and fun. But the second half comes off as moody wannabe 80s tunes.
You probably aren’t going to hear people throwing this record on at parties. But, if you like Holy Ghost!’s influences, you’d probably enjoy listening to it through headphones while you ride BART or a bus around the bay at night. It’s that kind of album.
Photo Credit to The Zender Agenda on Flickr.
Article by Ryan Riedmueller