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There's a few things even the worst of Devin Townsend's detractors can't deny him. For one, he's absurdly prolific and hopelessly inspired. A few dozen side projects and a gazillion lengthy albums on, Devin still chugs along dreaming up oddball concept albums with incomprehensible exuberance. A lot of these albums may have a destination you may not entirely find agreeable, but you sure as hell couldn't argue that they were directionless per se. The man also has possible the most incredibly wide grasp of genres of any songwriter, though fans who know him only through Strapping Young Lad records couldn't really know that. His repertoire almost nonchalantly skips across genres with the only common thread between even songs on the same album being the sheer neuroticism and energy of singer/songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist/producer Devin Townsend.
That aside, this is possibly his most unique creation yet - though it doesn't use the heavy-light dynamic people commonly associated with Devin and stays clean throughout. Not much of a problem here, I'd actually defer to the more atmospheric side of Devin's works than the heavier bits. But this is a lot more off-kilter than even his most ambient works in the past. Steeped heavily in New Age dynamics, a lot of this album could even pass off for meditation music, or even say, lounge music sans annoying and ubiquitous Kenny G shenanigans. Well, Devin always liked his share of Enya and Ravi Shankar. There's also a slight influence of the folk rock stylings of Nick Drake and even a bit of Dream Pop that rears its head every now and then in the shorter songs. Post-rock would be a valid comparison on a purely superficial level, but this sounds far too shimmeringly positive to ever pass off for Explosions in the Sky fare.
While I couldn't say I'm much of a fan (or at all) of New Age personally, it really works here. Mainly because Devin doesn't simply aim to create pleasing background music but tries to actively incorporate it as a part of his songwriting. The songs here don't simply throw around needless wind instruments against a moribund backdrop but actually progress and evolve to a latent, mantra-like climax. There's energy here, undoubtedly - even if there's an abiding sense of calm. The best of the lot show up at the very outset, and the first half of the album works almost perfectly. From the ethereal 'Fly' to the longer and more drawn out 'Feather' - everything falls in place here. There's a resonant, understated performance from Devin while female vocals subtly and ethereally float in and out of the mix. There's no needless masturbation on the wind instruments to sound 'exotic' and the album is peppered with some of Devin's most soulful acoustic work. Never exaggerated, never lacking - and with a stellar, crystal clear production so characteristic of Devin, it's really hard not to find this a work that is both immediate and touching in effect.
There's also some variation every now and then, generally in the form of shorter, poppy numbers contrasted with longer, atmospheric pieces. 'Ghost' if slightly overlong, works as a very layered pop song. 'Blackberry' finds Devin busting out a banjo lending the song a pseudo-country feel. But it's after this that the album starts to lull, characteristic of a malaise that seems to run through the bulk of Devin's output. No doubt the man has an incredible capacity to craft artful and unique songs - and with the sheer length and magnitude of works such as this, he's really never lacking in ideas. But the perennial problem seems to be that while Devin has the capability to stuff 72 minutes of music into an album, perhaps even double - as the sole craftsmen of his work, he's not entirely capable of truly vetting his ideas. Plenty of these songs could have been shortened considerably and still had the same effect, or even been combined to create something a lot more punchy. Perhaps this is the reason Ocean Machine still remains the strongest of Devin's work - he worked on it with an actual band. It's not that Devin can't actually make great songs on his own, it's just that with his profligate sense of composition - the listener is almost entirely inundated in material.
Honestly though, compared to creative stultification that most other bands are subject to - this isn't that big a deal. I'd much rather have excess over scarcity, with the kind of energy and effort that punctuates excess. This album, particularly the first half, has its fair share of moments - though its more than likely it would only appeal to more eclectic listeners or more particularly, in certain settings. What particularly surprises me is that Devin doesn't garner an entirely different set of fans from the cross-genre appeal of records like this. Dedicated fanbases and mainstream success don't often go together, but Devin must've known that way back when he wrote what is possibly one of the catchiest pop-rock songs in 'Life' kickstarting his career on Ocean Machine. And more than a decade later - sober, still noticeably bi-polar and hitting perhaps the most creative stride in his career yet, Devin cares even less for any of it. The carnival rolls on.
This is something I should like. Ghost is definitely up my alley. And to some extent, I do -- just not a whole lot. Like the review title states, it's like visiting a local park, in that it's pretty, but pretty damn plain. I find little to remember, and after listening to it multitudes of times, there are only 4-5 songs that really pop out for me and that I can remember off the top of my head.
Devin Townsend is, if nothing else, very productive and prolific. He has made many albums, and his newer albums seem to mostly be over an hour long. And, as well, most of his discography seems to be quality stuff. So professionalism and effort are not in question here. Neither do I take issue with the minimalist approach presented here on Ghost -- one of my favorite artists is Stars of the Lid, which is about as minimalist and tranquil as it gets. The sound here on Ghost has many acoustic instruments, ranging from flutes to acoustic guitars to marginal percussion like glistening chimes as well as a myriad of samples presented here and there. In fact, one description I could use is that you can practically see the butterflies flying around and the small waterfalls gently pouring water into a pond in the midst of a tranquil meadow. What, then, could be the source of such the low rating?
A big part is quantity versus quality. Frankly, everything here is pleasant, and in great quantity, but unchallenging. This, in of itself, is not a problem, but the music here is simple, and not in a good way. Many minimalist/ambient artists have few layers and/or simple structure to their songs, yet the chordal textures and tonal colors used are novel and rich, like the opiodal caress of silky synths or the dissociative use of distant yet powerful lower tones. There is none of that to be found here. For all the layers Devin Townsend uses here, he accomplishes very little, and this might be the layman's ambient rock. It's simple, it's easy to digest, and quite pleasant, but in the long run unrewarding. Ghost will distract you with all the layers and the pleasantries, but in the end it's quite formulaic, and if you take all of Devin Townsend's previous "mellow" works, distill the formula from them, and take out all the subtlety and ingenuity, you will end up with Ghost. Devin may talk it up, and many blinded fans may be deceived by all the layers, but it's quite homogeneous.
Again, the comparison to the local park comes up. The textures are quite calming, much as the ambience walking along a local trail might offer nonoffending vistas and alluring smells, but it's still quite plain and unexciting. It may be a good place to have a barbeque or clear one's mind, but it doesn't offer much on its own. Similarly, Ghost is good enough music to put on when I have company over or when I need something to go to sleep to. But outside of that, it's pretty much useless and uninteresting. Furthermore, it doesn't even perform that function all that well; I find for meditation there are at least two ambient artists who function much better, and when I have company over who are likely to enjoy said work, there are several artists who I would much rather put on with much more interesting atmospheres.
In fact, going back to the quantity versus quality argument, if Townsend had focused on maybe making this only 5 or 6 songs and making those five or six songs as deep and magnificent as possible, I would've rated Ghost much higher. I find with Ghost that too many of the songs are filler and/or sound too similar. There's a difference between letting an idea evolve slowly, and gross repetition. Ghost is much more prone to simple repetition, or even worse, directionless meandering. Nothing really goes with anything more than anything else (a riff from Fly wouldn't sound out of place on Feather, or Heart Baby and Kawaii, etc...) and this only adds to the homogeneous quality of Ghost. This whole album sounds like a giant glob of sweet pleasantness, with no defining characteristics. As well, nobody is pointing a gun at Devin Townsend's head, telling him to fill up an 80 minute disc. Ghost would've sounded a LOT better at 40 minutes instead of nearly 80 minutes, and there's nothing wrong with cutting down on the minutes to ensure a higher quality product.
Ghost may be sedating and sweet sounding in the short run, but for me, in the long run, it does not receive very many plays. I am a fan of Devin Townsend, and will continue to be in the future, but I'm not really all that pleased with Ghost. Initially I found it novel and relaxing, but that wore off quickly. Sometimes bigger isn't better, and sometimes less is more, and in this case, Ghost could've used a serious liposuction procedure. It's pleasant, but very plain, bloated, and diluted.
What can be said about Devin Townsend that hasn't been said already? He's one of the most prominent figures in modern metal, whether being known for his work with the extreme (and I mean extreme) metal band Strapping Young Lad or for his large body of solo work. Either way, this man is everywhere, and has crossed nearly every boundary in contemporary music while retaining his rock/metal roots.
However, ever since Ki (his first album under the alias "The Devin Townsend Project"), Townsend's music has gradually grown more honest, only rearing the head of his earlier work with the album Deconstruction (released the same day as Ghost). Many fans didn't even know what to expect after such an album like Deconstruction; a record filled with scatological humor and a diverse selection of extreme progressive metal tracks. However, its brother album Ghost is the polar opposite; A new-age/ambient album filled with the most soothing palette of sounds released by Townsend.
Any trace of the metallic wall of sound present on earlier Devin Townsend releases is gone, replaced with Townsend's soothing vocals, an oceanic atmosphere, and some of the softest instrumentation by the man since the quieter moments of Terria. Let's start with the first track, "Fly." Right off the bat, the calm sound of the album immediately makes its presence known. Kicking things off with a beautifully soaring flute, "Fly" sees Devin Townsend reaching for a zen-like effect with his guitar and vocals, creating something truly wonderful. It's as if he's inviting the listener to soar across the mountaintops with him; the synthesizer effects contribute to this atmosphere just as well.
This style continues for the duration of the album... there's no metal, and only a trace of rock in songs like "Feather" or "Blackberry." Speaking of "Feather", that is, HANDS DOWN, one of the best songs on the record if not THE best song on the record. The song, like "Fly", starts out with the lovely flute, yet transforms into something entirely different. This song is over 11 minutes long, but never will you lose your focus on the song. There's always something interesting going on, whether it's in the multiple textural layers present in the instruments or the loose-yet-powerful flow the track exudes.
While we're on the topic of focus, I'll just say this now: This is where Ghost really escapes the pitfall that Deconstruction fell victim to. In Deconstruction, there was lost focus in some of the offerings, and some portions simply felt like they didn't meld well. In Ghost, however, there is an abundance of music to really stay focused in on, even at a daunting 72:45. Even with an album of this epic magnitude, nothing feels tacked on or feels like dead weight; everything serves a genuine purpose and role in the album.
So what do we end up having? We end up having one of the best albums of Devin Townsend's career, and a subdued masterpiece to behold by fans of any genre. Folk? You have it. Ambient? That's there as well. Progressive rock? Definitely there. The biggest departure is certainly the departure from the metal genre, but it shows that Devin Townsend's maturing out of his immature humor of yesteryear and progressing toward bigger things. If this was his intention, then he succeeded wildly.
(From my Sputnikmusic account)
Finally, a two year saga has been wrapped up for this Canadian musical mastermind. Starting in 2009, former Strapping Young Lad frontman and acclaimed solo musician Devin Townsend set off on reinventing himself with a series of four vastly different albums; a project he would call the Devin Townsend Project. After an atmospheric rock, pop, and symphonic extreme metal album, Townsend has now come to the final installment in what he has stated is the culmination of his musical career. Here it is, the long awaited record 'Ghost', which apprises the man's ambient and most laid back side. While the album maintains the same level of decent quality that the rest of the Devin Townsend Project's output has amounted to, 'Ghost' stands on its own as a very pleasant and easy listen, but perhaps too much so. Although it is a strong piece of new age music, the one tracked nature of 'Ghost' can lead to a fairly numbing experience at times.
Although 'Ghost' is a complete contrast to the previous Project album 'Deconstruction', it works in very much the same way. Sticking to one sense of dynamic and running with it, Devin Townsend uses a very calming, folky, new age mellowness with this; acoustic guitars, eastern flutes, jazzy drum work and ethereal vocal works are set forth to make this the ultimate relaxation album. To some extent, Townsend achieves this. If any word can come to mind here, it is 'soothing'; even Townsend's usually over-the-top vocal delivery is toned down to a soft, gentle croon for this. While the effect is nice for a while, it can get undeniably tedious at times. Especially considering the album's stretched length passing the seventy minute mark, it is very possible to be both relaxed and bored by the album.
My personal favourite from the record may very well be the song 'Feather', which like much of the material on 'Ghost' is quite a drawn out and ambient piece, but it is quick to show the strongest aspects of this side of the man's work. Easily the greatest thing about 'Ghost' is in fact the production; although the songwriting is generally nothing special or particularly inspired, it is clear that plenty of thought has gone into fleshing out each track into part of this otherwordly experience. From Townsend's staple 'wall of sound' effects to incredibly warm vocal harmonies and an amount of detail and nuance that surprisingly rivals 'Deconstruction', 'Ghost' is an intricate piece of music, even if it may lack the sort of songwriting depth and dynamic to keep a listener interested throughout.