Tuesday, 27th June 2017. 5:00:40pm ET
Reviews CD Reviews Synthpop, New Wave Ghost & Writer - Red Flags

Artist: Ghost & Writer

CD title: Red Flags

Label: Metropolis

Genre: Synth-Noir

 

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Ghost & Writer's 2010 album Shipwrecks, ushered in a new appreciation of synthpop for me. The creative duo of Frank Spinath and Jimmyjoe Snark III, forged a new sub-genre on the album of Synth-Noir, combining the dark mysteries of pulpy noir narratives with the slick futuristic sounds of synthpop. The result was a series of tragic stories set to lush and atmospheric electronic soundscapes. Shipwrecks evoked a gothic feel without being goth in style. A feat that few other bands have managed to achieve. If you couldn't get enough of Shipwrecks, then you will be glad to know that the team has returned with a second album, Red Flags.

 

While listening to Shipwrecks, I got the impression that most of the songs were set in seedy hotel rooms and alleyways in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. There was a very West Coast US pulp feel to it. Red Flags sounds as if it has a similar focus in geographic setting, but stages the songs in the dark and expansive heights of a metropolis, like Chicago and New York. This largely inspired by a futuristic sound delivered by Jimmy Joe Snark III. Red Flags maintains its dark atmosphere, but Snark's synths and programming incorporate more pop-elements. Fans of Seabound will definitely enjoy this album, as I found it evocative of that project's earlier work. That's not to say that this album is a Seabound clone. Not by a long shot. Red Flags has a polish and unique flow, that Spinath's previous work didn't. Starting with the playful and sinister “Gambit”, we get the impression that the band has gone a completely different direction from their debut LP. However as the album progresses, the happier bouncy beats slide into the background and the synths become somber and ominous. Going back to the setting of a metropolis I mentioned earlier, Red Flags starts us off from a helicopter shot of a city. Its all neon and lights at first, but the further we get into the album the more we see the cracks and dirt of this musical cityscape. Spinath does what he does best on this album, and that is deliver 8 songs of psychologically compelling tales involving heartbreak, betrayal, and loneliness. My only complaint about Red Flags is that Spinath's vocals are part of why I feel this album was evocative of Seabound. With the exception of “(Do I Have) Your Word”, he doesn't do any of the crooning or dramatic reading that made Shipwrecks so innovative. His voice follows the pop-flow of the first few tracks and does some of the sinister whispering he is well known for. This complaint is just a personal gripe, however because I think a return to an earlier style of singing plays to Snark's strengths, which shine through a lot more on this album than the last.

 

Red Flags delivers eight new songs, coming in at just over 30 minutes, which really cut the listening experience short for me.  I didn't get the immersive feeling that the first album instilled.  Of the 16 tracks on this CD, the remaining eight tracks are remixes of the original songs. While I am getting burnt out on extra remix tracks on albums, these did not annoy me as much. Rather than deliver some awkward club-friendly versions, the band selected remixes that give different interpretations on their musical pulp stories. Arkanoid alters “Gambit” into a funky dance number with complex beats that plays up more on the sinister playfulness the lyrics hint at. The “Secret Remix” of “Never Takes Fire” plays with the vocal pitch and filters to give the song a hollow echo-y sound, until the synths and beats slowly roll out of the background into a grand climax. My favorite remix on the album was “(Do I Have) Your Word (Hidden Moon)”, which turns the song into a slice of late 30's/early 1940's jazz, complete with radio static, crooning, and horns. If there was any one track on the album that cemented the mental image of noir through the ages in a sprawling metropolis, this song was it.

 

In closing, Red Flags is what I was hoping for out of Ghost and Writer. Frank Spinath and Jimmy Joe Snark III bring all of their strength and experience to this very experimental sound, and evolved it nicely from their debut. While it is a lot more pop-driven than Shipwrecks, Red Flags still holds true to the atmosphere and mystery that the project seeks to portray. If you are looking for some great synthpop that will emotionally take you to places other than the dancefloor, give Red Flags a listen.

 

Jason “DJ Kantrip” Calhoun

 

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

Take a Listen now:

 

Ghost & Writer

 

Buy- Ghost & Writer-Red Flags


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