A title can tell you a lot about an album before you’ve even heard a single note. Sometimes it helps, acting as a doorway of sorts, so you know where to go and what to expect (Kisses’ Kids In L.A.; Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t; Muse’s Black Holes & Revelations (though that’s a given with any Muse release)), other times it’s just there as another creative device (see The Flaming Lips) which may or may not make more sense once you’ve lived through the album. Ghost System Rave isn’t a combination of words that you’d likely fit together if you were given an elementary child’s English homework (plus, who’s teaching the kids about raves?), but as an opening statement about what Clouds’ debut album holds, it’s perfect. Let me break it down.
This album has more than one – it’s full of them. Over the hour runtime, you’ll bump into disembodied voices murmuring away in background. Voices heard through the static of intercoms? See “Modular Scarf.” Lone conversations had in the echoing corners of warehouses? Opening track “(9600) 1991 UB” has you covered. Shrieks blurting through the dance tracks? Have a listen through “Future 1.” And while their presence can be unnerving, the album never falls into being notably scary. Instead the duo – Calum Macleod and Liam Robertson – cut and paste the vocal samples, giving them new context, if not chopping up the melodic sounds they make to fit into their Soviet-era techno.
Take a look at the song titles and you’ll feel like you’re browsing a computer hardware catalogue, “GX 339-4 V821 Ara (About 15000)” and “(9600) 1991 UB” taking home first and second prize. But again, it’s perfect. The album is a mechanical, industrious beast that clatters with all the noises of a factory with a robot workforce. “Gothic” rotates over and over with a low clang before Macleod and Robertson bring some beats into the picture, like Matthew Herbert might put aside the found sound of a machine working away. One of the midpoint highlights, “The Rights of Artificial Life Form,” grinds away, like The Chemical Brothers’ “Believe” (and its fitting robot-nightmare video) reimagined to be something more functional than catchy, while “Roche Lobe (System)” sounds like a supercomputer from the 70s making calculations as bleeps trickle away, like something Hamish Duncan created in forays between ambiance and techno-house under his Sleep In and Housewife monikers.
Were it not for this word, then the album would still have a pretty accurate title, but without it, it leaves out the main musical focus. Clouds’ debut is a techno album through and through, with heavy impacting beats being the main point of focus for most of the tracks here when they aren’t building atmosphere. As mentioned, there are examples of the duo using what sound like found sounds of machines clanking away as the heartbeat for the tracks, but there are just as many (if not more) examples of beats working on their own and being just as (if not more) overwhelming. “Uiqwenmokdan” marries a tinny snare to a deadly bass drum while “Uondapaturu” injects a heavy thud into the mix of molten synths and vocal snippets. Come the latter half of the album, the bass reigns supreme as “Khevsurian” and “Future 2” rumble in a way that’ll shake the belonging on your desk, even if your speakers aren’t turned right up. It’s all fitting for a rave, albeit one that sounds like it’s taking place in a hidden location in some eastern European city where the language around you is alien to your ears – but the music leaves this worry behind.
One thing the title Ghost System Rave also does is work alongside the music here to create a narrative, which I can’t help but interpret as something that sounds like it’s awaiting a release from Hollywood. Robots revolting against their human superiors in a remote location as depicted on the cover seems to fit, as the album goes from the sound of the machines working away before their sentience is brought into question at the midpoint (“The Rights of Artificial Life Form,” you see?). Come the last third things are falling apart and “GX 339-4 V821 Ara (About 15000)” sounds like the alarms bells ringing before the factory is torn apart, with frayed electrical wires everywhere (“Topless Female Nudity” – Hollywood, as I said). There’s even the epic finale in the seven-minute closing tack “Gothic North” as the pace goes from turgid meandering to heavy onslaughts, like the machines finding their way into the rest of the world.
But that’s probably just me getting carried away. Intense title dissection and interpretation aside, Ghost System Rave is a behemoth of techno album that serves as a fine example of what Turbo Recordings seems to have been aiming towards for some time: it’s big, heavy, and worthy to soundtrack plenty of dancefloors. The only thing Ghost System Rave is arguably missing is the real personality from its creators. It certainly captures something which feels like a Hollywood horror movie script interpreted into electronic music, but that goes back to the successful capturing of the robotic sound. There’s not enough individual flair to make you instantly think that this is the work of two guys with some musical know-how. Nor is it the easiest to take apart. Some tracks do work on their own, but getting the fullest effect from them seems to come from experiencing the ebb and flow of the album. I mean, you can take apart a robot and gander at the parts and wonder at how it contributes to the final product, but just watching the end product in motion tends to the most satisfying, even if that robot is tearing apart a fictional factory from whence it came.