With so many ways to record, augment, share, amplify, and distort music nowadays, we’ve entered an age where timbre is king. This isn’t an especially new phenomenon, and timbre was never an unimportant factor in a piece’s quality. But in the era of recorded sound, and especially now in the digital age, when music can be pitch-shifted, garbled beyond recognition, or even created exclusively by a computer, the specific timbre that comes through your speaker system heavily defines our listening experience. No longer are musicians required to be virtuosi or masters of dynamic range; they don’t even need to hire an expert producer to walk them through the studio process in order to pique the listener’s interest. What we seem to key in on today is a band or artist with that “new sound” — i.e., someone who can take a piece of music and record it or manipulate it in a way that gives us a renewed sense of possibilities to titillate our increasing high aural expectations.
Dead Ghosts, a particularly apropos name for the Vancouver trio that uses traditional rock and country riffs as a backdrop for their fuzzed-out garage rock anthems, has found a niche in this new timbre-dominated recording world. Although not particularly innovative (spend the next five seconds counting all of the lo-fi garage rock bands from the past five years, and you’ll probably move from counting on your fingers to your toes before the time is up), their new record Can’t Go No does get one thing right: it makes me want to get thrown into a mosh-pit in some dank basement show while some sweaty, inebriated teens flail around just a little too close to the microphone and some poor kid gets his Ray-Bans stomped on, while the rest of us don’t really seem to give a fuck. This is good, because when I listen to this album and its jangly guitar riffs, rockin’ piano, and organ overlays, I think about all of the good times that I have at live shows and how these great rock ‘n’ roll progressions can still inspire such energy.
Unlike some of their counterparts in the garage-fuzz, whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-it rock scene, Dead Ghosts rely less on the “turn everything to 11” technique that seems to plague a lot of the mediocre releases in the genre: bass that overwhelms any mid-range or treble that may have made its way onto the recording; guitars with the overdrive turned up as high as possible, the tone turned all the way down, and reverb that never seems to end. These problems are avoided in Can’t Get No’s balanced recording, which allows each instrument to keep its own space intact, recalling the begone days of analog recordings (you know, when the whole band had to play their song in its entirety as a group in a single take). Although the album exudes energy, it’s not necessarily uplifting: songs like “I Want You Back” and “Cold Stare” sound neither cheery nor depressing, while the lyrical content is rather bleak. This shows that Dead Ghosts don’t need to take themselves too seriously; they’re out to make some good jams with undeniable energy, not necessarily to wow anyone with their songwriting prowess. This might not make Can’t Get No an overwhelming favorite for album of the year, but it certainly make it a more enjoyable experience.