An album that will no doubt be divisive amongst noise and experimental fans, Dan Friel’s sophomore effort is a panoply of high-pitched wails and hypnotic drones, all arranged in the context of pop songs: not a particularly far cry conceptually from his longstanding band Parts & Labor. The disc will surely get harsh-heads’ respective goats; for them, attempts to popularize ‘noise’ and bring it out of the often elitist tributaries and into the pop mainstream may be construed as a somewhat counterproductive kick in the pants. And part of me sees their point, that subsuming an art form inherently opposed to order back into the realm of classical western structures from which it so desperately has been trying to escape could be aggravating to those who have carved out this particular niche. Normally, I would anticipate finding myself on that particular side of the fence, but though my cerebral cortex may want to dismiss Ghost Town as anti-intellectual hobnobbery, my gluteus maximus won’t allow it.
Dan Friel -- similar to that other like-minded Dan -- is adept at blending screeching tones and circuit-bent lunacy with anthemic pop themes. From the first sprawling moments of “Ghost Town Pt. 1,” a mesmerizing soundscape comes to life. There is a blown-out vibe to the whole thing, toasted cones and busted tweeters bleating sanctimoniously. And those looking for a little ear abuse will surely find some here and may even be tricked into shaking their otherwise lifeless rumps, while indie kids may finally suffer the same tinnitus as the rest of us.
A somewhat anachronistic Wild West theme envelops the album. On “Desert Song,” Friel’s machines wheeze as in Aphex Twin’s now infamous homage to his asthma medication, “Ventolin,” before “One Legged Cowboy” hops along lopsidedly while wooing a mountain song of yore, perhaps a postmodern version of “Home on the Range.” The hums of a sad cowboy limping into the sunset echo in a vast canyon as a bale of digital tumbleweed blows across a pixelated desert landscape.
Like Friel’s work with Parts & Labor, a declarative theme of industrialism (both musical and societal) is present on Ghost Town. The squealing drills and rhythmically cranking machinery of “Buzzards” rearranges the factory sounds into the sounds of the dance floor before a wild feeding frenzy picks clean the bones of that wildebeest carcass otherwise known as post-industrialism.
Ultimately, Ghost Town succeeds more as a pop album than as a noise album. Those looking for the atonal, amelodic, and anarchic may not find enough of it here to satisfy their sadism, but those looking for a Wild West robot cowboy jamboree will undoubtedly be tickled pink.