Album Review: Glass Ghost – Idol Omen

[Western Vinyl; 2009]

What a curious record Idol Omen is to appear at the end of 2009. At the bookend of this year I’ve found myself repeatedly sucked into this seemingly odd but brief album. And that’s a shame because I thought I had my end-of-year list all sorted. Though for the accuracy of a contrived list, which every messageboarding music fan is already doing or has done, this is a stupid complaint. Music is welcome at any point. I suppose I can only blame myself for being late in finding Glass Ghost.

Then again, as happy as I am to praise them, Glass Ghost haven’t come from nowhere and taken the top spot of my end-of-year list. This isn’t the best record I’ve heard all year, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting ones I’ve heard. It sounds familiar but simultaneously subtly fresh, blending styles and tricks from various genres all while completely sliding past your ears in what feels like no time whatsoever. I stuck this record on when I began typing this review and I’ve already reached the final song – and I’m not that slow a typist or thinker.

But despite its short runtime (just over half an hour) it never feels like it’s speeding by when it’s playing. In fact, I’d go as far to say it never even feels fast-paced. Every song drifts by, making a statement but never throwing it in your face. When the loudest and most brash moments of the record come, they come naturally as the songs swell and burst before they go back to the almost gentle pace.

At first you’ll get caught with remembering fragments of the songs, such the vocal chorus build-up of “Mechanical Life” or the thoughtful and spaced-out delivery of “Like A Diamond.” If you don’t find yourself spontaneously singing along to fragments of lines of songs when you put it on again, you’ll instantly recognize certain instrumental parts such as the glorious but almost scary and dissonant swell of “Divisions,” which sounds like the musical equivalent of growing pains or perhaps getting your brain melted by a seriously complex math problem. Or there’s the greatly memorable centrepiece “The Same,” which almost sounds funky and danceable, but also sounds so casual that the labelling of it in such ways feels nonsensical because they’re pulling it off with an ice cold sort of irony.

However penetrating, the songs further than simple enjoyment on the more basic level can be a little troublesome. The lyrics from Eliot Krimsky can be a little abstract at times – never really being specific, but still giving the listener plenty of simple hooks that are easy enough to repeat along with clever turns of phrase that strike you on later listens, such as the line, “The heartbreak of a shatter” on the clattering and clanging “Violence.” Not before long, his falsetto even comes to be warming – slightly charming even – and a perfect companion for the keys that go from smooth and icy on “Like A Diamond” before the horns slide quietly into the picture, or for the rippling and fidgeting motions on “What I’ve Seen.”

What it is I like about Idol Omen is, nonetheless, hard to pin down. As a whole, the record impresses me and reminds me of Autistic Daughters with its fragmented construction at points. But at other times it recalls Tom Waits, and when the percussion rattles and when the drums are played in a trip-hop-like time signature it even flickers comparisons to Portishead. But then again there’re a whole bunch of other things that I enjoy, from the analysis that the lyrics invite to just the name of the record and even the band. Idol Omen is so sneakily apt as the record always hints at worshipping something evil, whether it be the man just living his life out without question on “Mechanical Life” or the man who teaches the “time-saving trick” on the track of the same name, while the name Glass Ghost also hints at something glimmering but not solid or even real. Imagine wetting your finger and sliding it around an empty glass and you’ll get the sort of ineffable idea I’m hinting at.

The reason this record hasn’t shot to the top of my list, though, is because of the simple fact that it’s not without its flaws (much like every other not totally perfect record this year). But its worst points are hardly even that bad. “Ending” sees Krimsky as his lyrically weakest, going for simple couplets (“There’s a place way up high/ where I hold my soul and cry…It was old, it was new/ and it broke my heart in two”), but because of the swaying and gentle buzzing that’s drifting his easy lines along, like a calm nighttime sea, it’s one of the most instantly memorable moments. But there’s nowhere else that the records really slips up. The only reason some might not engage with it and find it as captivating as I do is perhaps because of its construction and the relaxed way it’s presented to the listener. But at this time of year when you think you’ve heard everything, it’s well worth investing the last of your free time discovering another record to add to your list.