The five guys who make up London-based band Ghouls aren’t afraid to strike out and do something a little different. The band blends together different genres - mixing ska, punk, pop, folk, rock and a bit of gypsy flair to create music with a distinctive Ghouls-y flavour. They’ve been around for a while and have received praise over the years for the innovative and fresh sound on their previous releases, so I was really keen to get stuck in and see what Ghouls’ latest full-length album Run has to offer.
‘Seasonal Affective’ is the first track on the album as well as the first single that Ghouls released off of Run. It’s a well put-together, midtempo song that compliments its worn-out and jaded theme with some grungy guitar tone and mournful vocals. Seasonal Affective Disorder refers to the condition in which your mood is adversely affected by the weather, particularly Winter when there is less light and the increased darkness can lead to depression. A friend of mine who moved from Joburg (one of the sunniest cities in the world) to London (wonderful in its own way, but much darker in the Winter months) knows this affliction all too well. It’s also a good metaphor for going through more difficult periods or phases in one’s life. I suppose what’s important to remember here is that, much like seasonal changes, these darker periods don’t last and very often improve with time. The song has good structure and melody, but it’s a little slower than I’d expected and the horns are noticeably absent.
My concerns about speed and ska-ness are gone as soon as I’m hit with the second track, ‘Autophobia’. The horns are back and so is some pace, although the dark mood introduced in the first song is continued, as ‘Autophobia’ focuses on loneliness and the destructive behaviour fuelled by it. The next two songs, ‘Better Places’ and ‘Facebook Friend’, are really top-notch pop punk tunes. Both deliver on great hooks (the horn phrasing in ‘Facebook Friend’ is a proper earworm) and some serious bass/drum magic (I’d really like to see Ghouls live just to watch the drummer and the bassist play ‘Better Places’). Lyrically, the band is still lingering over more difficult subject matter and dishing out some painful truths, refusing to feel too bad about there being “better places to be” and or to dismiss someone as “just another Facebook friend”. The guys in Ghouls seem to be looking to live openly and to make real connections, rather than get stuck in the half-life of fake or virtual friendship.
Moving into ‘Salt’, I’m really beginning to notice how well-produced this album is. Everything is skilfully layered, balanced and blended. This isn’t simple up-stroke ska or straight-forward pop punk, and the horns are used cleverly to fill out and bolster the sound or to add little surprises you may not have been expecting. It’s also around this point in the album that Ghouls begin to remind me of We Are the Union, except that the vocalist in Ghouls has such a prominent British accent that the band can’t really be compared to anyone in the U.S. ‘Salt’ and the track that follows it, called ‘The Difference’, are also excellent. Six songs in and Ghouls really seem to be hitting their groove with great melodies and rousing guitar (and that delectable dollop of horns on top). The next track, ‘Home’, picks up the pace again and adds a bit of folksy twang in a song about following what may appear to be a dead-end dream. It’s been a long time since I heard a band that is so straight-forward and honest in their lyrics – the anxiety about continuing to play in a band even as you get older is palpable here, and I believe the vocalist in ‘The Difference’ when he sings “I’m barking like a dog, because I refuse to be a sheep”.
Following on from this is ‘Antagonist’, which combines a fun, jiving guitar riff with a poppy chorus, and a slow-building song about ‘Hard Days’. I love the bass line at the beginning of ‘Hard Days’, but it’s just one example of the bass sorcery happening all over Run. The album then begins to wind down with the anti-love ballad of ‘Disavowal’ and the mostly acoustic track ‘Expect Greater Things’. ‘Expect Greater Things’ is a real jewel of a song; it begins with raw acoustic guitar and the Ghouls’ vocalist singing the horn section’s “Dada, dada, da dada da dada”, and then the rest of the band swells and comes in to fill their parts. It’s a little like listening to the life of song from the early writing stages to its final production. ‘Oxytocin’ provides a strong ending to the album with some sweeping horns and jittery, grooving guitar.
On the whole, Run seems calmer and slightly darker than Ghouls’ previous albums. The guys have moved on from the faster-paced drinking songs to more solemn topics and the music has also matured. Even looking at the cover art for Run I’m struck by how much more modern it looks with HD photography and clean lines – a new direction from the animated covers of their previous albums. I really like what Ghouls have achieved with this record; Run is a very well-made album with great songs that builds on their distinct sound and pushes it to new places.
Stream and download Run here: https://ghoulsuk.bandcamp.com/
Like Ghouls here: https://www.facebook.com/ghoulsuk
This review was written by Robyn Pierce.