The Ghost is Clear
Straight outta Seattle, Exohxo has something new to add to an already crowded scene (pop music): they’ve taken a sort of “left-hand turn” at the fork in the road between “same old stuff” and “renovated, spliced together genres” then, put them in a blender and out poured The Ghost is Clear: it is what Paul Constant described in writing: “Exohxo are a chamber-pop [italics mine] band you should know about; they’re experts at combining orchestral strings, forceful guitars and poppy melodies into something at once catchy and erudite.”
Hmm…well, now. I actually didn’t find that quote until after I’d already started listening to this very unorthodox, smart and skilled album. Being only six songs on it that add up to about 21 minutes, I suppose The Ghost is Clear would be labeled an “EP” – but what a tight-knit, smooth batch of mostly three-minute long tunes it is.
I kept mulling over that description Mr. Constant gave them: a “chamber-pop band”…I suppose the “chamber” part of it would be from the strings that are a big part of their sound and which can possibly mess with one’s mind, if they’re not ready for their pop mixed w/violins and cellos. But for those extraordinarily brave and forward-looking listeners, to whom experimentation and mixing things up for the sake of said is a quite beautiful thing, Exohxo is a force for good.
That said, let me take you through the songs on The Ghost is Clear: first, you have the opening cut, “Past Lives”, which starts off with a blissful hum of what sounds like a Hammond organ (?) -or a facsimile of one. Not only an organ, of course, but a groovy guitar that’s strumming away with a jingle-jangle and a straight-ahead groove. After the first verse the strings sneak in and, well, no, they don’t dominate it, but they do kind of take one’s ears off the guitar but they don’t clash at all or seem to interrupt; they just kind of meld into the tune. “Parting Shots” is a slowed-down, mellowly-strummed guitar hand-in-glove w/a violin (viola?) and a bit in, there’s a keyboard that first is like a piano-like sound, which later pops up in the form of that great organ again. Also, about the last 1/3 or so, into it, “Parting Shots” speeds up and works up to a great denouement, then reaches its end. “Up to Me” goes in a bit of an “Emo” direction.
Just as you’re thinking this is some sort of touchstone, though, the next tune shoves that thought over a cliff: “Same as Always”, staying with the “strings”, a detour, of sorts, like if you’re flying from, oh, maybe, Cleveland to some place west: maybe Los Angeles or Phoenix or Denver, and, since you wanted to save a few bucks, you got ticket for a flight that has a stopover in Nashville, TN. That’s a good musical metaphor for “Same as Always”: they stopover, have a few hours to kill, so they take a shower in some molasses & cider themed country music, with a side order of folk. Instead of the lush rains of string quartet-ish strings, we get a jugful of fiddle and an acoustic guitar which is happily picking up the rhythm and a slick rhythm- drummer’s using brushes on the snare. Cool.
The Penultimate cut on The Ghost is Clear is “You Can’t Know”, a somewhat melancholy, more guitar-driven (up to the last quarter of it, when just before they kick into the last verse, the violin and guitar work together to really light it up). There’s a bit of reflection to it, maybe some introspection. I’m only interpreting here, but, what I hear is a possibly heartbroken guy’s trying to “fake it”, like “I’m all right, nothing wrong here”, but -“hey, who does he think he’s kidding?”, the band seems to be saying. Of course, that’s just one guy’s interpretation, so don’t quote me (well OK, you can quote me, but don’t use it against me, all right?).
Then, when we get to the last cut; the finale, “Trains that Look Like Towns” is an upbeat tune, kind of like, “We’re happy! We made it to L.A./Phoenix/Denver (Portland, OR?)” Even though the song is about Trains (that look like towns), it’s still kind of a “travel-themed” song, so there’s that angle to it…And, while getting there is “half the fun” as they say, arriving is the “other half” and, it sure feels refreshing to get off that plane -or train-in which you’ve been enclosed for the past few hours (or was it days?)
The “big picture” is that Exohxo, comprised of Danny Oleson on bass, vocals and violin; Jasen Samford, who plays guitar, sings and adds some percussion; Romi Dougherty on violin; Bill Nordwall, the keyboardist who plays piano and organ and Bob Zammit on the drums, does, indeed, have a “chamber-pop” sound. But, just calling it “pop” is short-changing their qualities, as they are far more than a mere “pop” band – strings or no. They have imagination, they’re not afraid to experiment, mix things up and do things their way and not the way that some guy(s) in a suit tell them to do it. Kudos to them for that! -KM.