A feast of style, but the electro duo’s debut skimps on substance.
Jaime Gill 2011-04-07
Timing is not Holy Ghost!’s forte. It’s now three and a half years since debut single Hold On emerged as a delicious fusion of tingling electronica and Italo-house piano chords. If they’d followed it up with a little more urgency they might have led the recent 80s electro revival, instead of being overtaken by fellow duos MGMT and Empire of the Sun. Not only that, but they are finally releasing their eponymous debut album in the same week that James Murphy has bowed out as LCD Soundsystem, begging the question of whether the duo can fill the gap left by their DFA label boss, friend and collaborator.
The answer to that question is, unfortunately, not really. While Holy Ghost! share Murphy’s veneration of off-kilter electro and driving disco, and often sound quite wonderful, they lack the versatility and emotional depth that lifted LCD Soundsystem above the NYC hipster scene. Do It Again opens the album in style, its pulsing synths, crisp beats and stadium-shuddering bass suggesting the gorgeous lovechild of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga and The Human League’s Love Action; but after the instant impact of that sound the album never truly develops.
This isn’t to say that Holy Ghost! isn’t enjoyable. Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser are obvious connoisseurs of 80s electro, and more importantly have found a way to bring it to life in a way which makes it sound fresh and dynamic. Wait and See is a fizzy concoction of chiming keyboard flourishes and flaring synthlines, over which Frankel delivers a playful, flirty vocal. It’s largely down to Frankel that Holy Ghost!, for all their synthetic music and hipster credentials, sound far warmer than they do cool.
There are other tracks that shine individually, too. The shuddering synths, whiplash beats and swooning falsettos of It’s Not Over sound like the Pet Shop Boys at their imperial peak, while Say My Name deftly combines huskily hypnotic melodies and ringing house pianos. Unfortunately, over 10 tracks, the band’s musical limitations become ever more obvious, with songs like Hold My Breath and Jam for Jerry rummaging through the same box of retro tricks to lessening effect.
The album’s other major problem is that Frankel’s vague girls-and-clubs subject matter and amiable but restrained vocal technique leave little to grip onto beneath the shiny surface of the sound. Ultimately, Holy Ghost! supplies a feast of style, but it skimps on substance.