Ghost Box Records Excavates Childhood Memories, Reminds Us Adults Are Full of Crap
|Chris de Burgh, not-so-fond memory|
Last summer, a release from Brooklyn's Daniel Lopatin, who records and performs as Oneohtrix Point Never, created a minor Internet buzz. A self-dubbed "echo jam," the track was a reworking of Chris de Burgh's mushy, limp-dick abomination "The Lady in Red," Loptain distilling the song down to a two-minute loop of the words "There's nobody here."
Despite its total heinousness, the song original summoned unspoiled memories of mine: junior high parties in finished basements, girls with Kip Winger's hair, boys with Kip Winger's poetic sensibilities, tall girls dancing with short boys, de Burgh bleating mercilessly in the background. However, Lopatin's reinvention of the song stripped away that golden, wistful patina, transforming it into something new: something unnerving and somnolent, like falling asleep in a bed you're not familiar with.
The Ghost Box audio/video aesthetic oscillates between engrossing and contrived. Album covers appear inspired by those glossy pamphlets you ignore in a doctor's office. Releases include logo tones that remind me of the brief PBS promos that popped up when "Sesame Street" had concluded and I began bawling to mom that my bowl of dry Alpha-Bits needed refilling. Liner notes detail the imaginary spaces Ghost Box music inhibits. Jupp insists that the approach is wholly functional, that it's all about the manic energy derived from being completely immersed in a mysterious, new world--like when a child traps an ant under a glass.
Under his own musical moniker, Belbury Poly, Jopp is quite adept at revising nostalgic triggers. The melodies and rhythms in "Caermaen" and "Insect Prospectus" haven't been pilfered from specific children's programming; they feel like the flawed recollections of this music that we carry around in our heads. It's a trifle violating, as if Jupp accessed your memory, rummaged through the drawers and shelves, and pocketed a few items. "Clockwork Horoscope" features spoken-word parts that sound like an adult speaking to a child ("This is going to be a year of great changes for you" says the voice, sounding like a high school health teacher about to discuss armpit hair). As kids, we're often impressed by the strength of a grown-up's voice, as well as the wisdom they impart. "Clockwork Horoscope" brings the realization that most of what adults say is extra-thick bullcrap, that words are often uttered just to kill the sting of silence.
Labelmates the Focus Group (House's alias) similarly reframe adolescent imagery. In "Backyards Rituals and Spare Time," summertime never felt so disjointed and fleeting; samples of chirping birds, bicycle bells, and splashing water are chopped up and spliced together, play for a few heartbeats and then die abruptly. "The Bohm Site" weaves what could be the purr of a busy household (voices emanating from a television/radio, a twinkling piano) with air raid sirens wailing ominously. It's the comforting womb of home ready to be vaporized.
If you accept the theories of some neuroscientists, Ghost Box is merely emulating a natural process of the brain: That every time a memory is recalled, it's subtly and irrevocably altered. Like the magnetic tape in audio cassettes, the more it's replayed the more degraded the memory becomes. If that's the case, then Ghost Box is truly deserving of the label "head music."
And for me, an increasingly frequent companion of nostalgia (despite my best efforts to keep it at arm's length), this degradation is playfully unnerving and a tad liberating. Wistfulness getting jerked around by the collar; a little mind-fuck without the narcotics. So long as the Chris de Burgh is kept to a bare minimum.
Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.