Gravenhurst – The Ghost in Daylight

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For five uniformly strong albums, Gravenhurst have operated in the twilight zone, cultivating a fine line in superficially pretty but actually quite unsettling compositions that make up for missing explosions with slow-burning intensity. Even when they have increased the tempo, songwriter/mainstay Nick Talbot’s hushed vocals have acted like an official standing around at the scene of an accident, repeating the familiar mantra “there’s nothing to see here” in the hope that curious bystanders will disperse and let the investigations into some grisly horror story commence in peace. All of which is a major turn-off for many, relegating Gravenhurst to the margins, despite Talbot’s consistent ability to develop the band’s sound without losing sight of their unique identity, and a songwriting prowess that deserves to be appreciated far more widely.

Judging by the borderline-glacial goings-on on album number six, Talbot remains unconcerned with catering to folks with un-evolved attention spans. There’s no rocking out in the style of ‘The Velvet Cell’ or ‘Hollow Men’ here. The full band dynamics explored on 2005′s superb, Slint-flavoured Fires in Distant Buildings and 2007′s streamlined, elegantly downcast The Western Lands are also largely sidelined. For the most part, The Ghost in Daylight is just Talbot’s guitar(s) and half-whispered – ghostly, in fact – voice, supplemented by subtle electronic touches and percussive elements. In this company, the resolutely mid-tempo, mournful first single ‘The Prize’ seems rowdy enough to pass for speed metal.

All of which makes for distinctly uneasy listening at first. On first encounter, these slow-burning (and just plain slow) tunes appear to vanish into the air before they get to make any lasting impressions. The absurdly stretched-out mood piece ‘Islands’ sounds like someone testing the pre-settings on an analogue drum machine whilst humming to themselves, as opposed to a fully formed song. At times, you’re half-tempted to shake the album about roughly to wake it up from its narcoleptic propensity for slumber.

But as ever with Gravenhurst, patience is amply rewarded. Although Talbot’s good at that sort of thing, too, on the rare occasions he can be bothered to venture on more conventional terrain (see ‘Nicole’ off Fires…), The Ghost in Daylight is far from standard-issue, relationship-orientated songcraft. Take ‘The Foundry’ as an example, the definite highpoint amongst many equally striking numbers. Beneath the tune’s disarmingly pretty exterior lurks a truly unsettling heart of darkness. By mixing lyrics that explore the banality of evil and the madness of masses sweeping people along towards acts of barbarity with the graceful calm of the music, Talbot’s created a uniquely potent blend of icy chill and soothing balm, and with it that rarest of things: totally cliché-dodging songwriting.

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