Ghosts of Love
I’m conscious that the rave I’m about to do might make you listen to this album, maybe even buy it, and that once you hear it you might wonder what exactly I was raving about.
On one level, I can see how someone might not be bowled over by this in the way that I was, so let me take a few moments to delve into the dark, hidden recesses of my musical psyche to try and lay bare the very personal reasons why I think this Marie Fisker album is just about the best thing I’ve heard in the last few years.
I think I owe you that. And I don’t want you getting mad at me.
It all begins with my love of songs that go nowhere.
What I mean by that, essentially, is songs that lack a bridge or a middle eight. I like songs that just alternate between verse and chorus and that go on and on in that form, the longer the better if it is a decent song, without offering that contrasting key change or mood change halfway through. I don’t know why, okay? I just do. And it just so happens that a lot of alt.country songs take this form and that’s why I immediately liked people like Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch. Lot’s of bridgeless songs.
Marie Fisker writes songs like that.
I also like slow songs. I don’t necessarily mean ballads or love songs — though those can be included — but I like songs where the tempo stays steady, sort of grinding, never getting up above a trudge. Again, Welch and Williams are masterful at this. Listen to tracks like ‘Fruits of My Labor’ or ‘I Dream a Highway’; they just suck me into their slow moving vortex and its like I’m sinking it a sea of audio mercury, floating in a narcotic muffle of walking-paced verse-chorus verse-chorus until the end of time. Even live, where the temptation is always to up the tempo, these guys keep it under control, slowly unwinding the songs in that luxurious, tidal way.
Marie Fisker’s album? Check.
And here’s another thing. I like songs where the guitar is a bit dirty, either with distortion via an effects pedal or even with bass up, treble down. I like it when this sound is enhanced with loose-skinned drumming and down-low bass guitar that eschews all efforts at turning the bass into a lead instrument and that instead just thuds along in the background picking out the simplest of accompaniments behind the guitar and vocals. I love the sound of the guitars on, for instance, the Krauss-Plant album, all dirtied up and sounding like the players are wearing gloves.
This Marie Fisker album has that sound in spades. Lovely tasteful distortions coming through vintage guitars, and some of the chords and riffs sounding like they are being peeled off a velcro fretboard.
Th next thing is sort of related, though not necessarily. I like simple production. Which isn’t to say that I don’t admire a big-budget production job by the likes of a Daniel Lanois (think Robbie Robertson’s first solo album) where the producer almost becomes the “fifth Beatle”, so to speak, but there is something exhilarating about that stripped back and spare production of a bunch of musos with some basic recording equipment just letting it all hang out. I guess it has something to do with sounding live or unpretentious. It’s the nice thing about music, that you can just do it, if you have the talent, without the need of acoustic steroids to get you to the end of performance. And it’s nice that these days it is relatively cheap to set up such a studio and then make your music available for others.
Ghosts of Love was recorded, according Fisker’s MySpace page, in a studio that she set up in an old house in the middle of Copenhagen, and Fisker produced it herself along with drummer Jakob Hoyer. So we can tick the “simple production” box too.
Finally, I like female singers. I like blokes too, but I like female vocalists. I like strong voices with a hint of dirt and smoke, a voice that conjures the sort of late night bars and nightclubs that probably exist everywhere from Iceland to the Louisiana bayou. City girl voices, even if they are singing roots music, voices inflected with those urban overtones and undertones that I wouldn’t call decadence but that you might call sex. Siren singers, if you like.
I like all of that, preferably together.
It’s not as if I don’t like albums that have none of these features. But when it comes down to it, the albums that I end up returning to again and again tend to be of this variety. Of course, you could have all these elements and still not come up with an album that I’d want to listen to. The songs still have to be good. The voice has to be great. The playing has to be above average.
Check, check, check.
For me, this album is almost too good to be true. It not only hits all the notes mentioned above, it is blessed with that certain something that just makes all the pieces fit together perfectly for me.
It is graced with excellent songs, strong, tuneful little urban fairytales that I’m happy to hear over and over again. Her voice is a thing of beauty. The lyrics work. The playing and production is as described above, so while this is basically a guitar-and-voice outing, it is enhanced with perfect touches of the odd bit of breathy vocal harmony, tasteful licks of slide guitar, some organ fills, even occasional bits of percussion in the form of glocknspiel and bells.
It’s pretty close to perfect, right down to the fact that it includes a cover of Gillian Welch song.
I could go on and on, but as I say, I’m conscious that unless you share my particular obsessions you might wonder what the hell I’m talking about. But have a listen (the MySpace site streams four tracks). If you like it then buy it and enjoy in perpetuity. If you don’t, at least be happy for me having found it.
NOTE: As far as I can tell, Fisker doens’t have an Australian distributor so you are either going to have to order it online or download it from iTunes.