Hypnotic Underworld
/drag city; 2004/


Throughout the freak folk scene that was the past twelve months, no amount of superlative praise for some new minstrel was able to lessen the impact of Hypnotic Underworld - - for myself, at least. Like many albums/movies that are cursed with a release early in the year only to be forgotten at years end by fresh offerings, I was particularly astonished by just how quickly everyone allowed Hypnotic Underworld to pass. These days you have to be a freak with a back story or a member of a pop band with fifteen other people to be able to grab a hold and maintain some limelight. Unfortunately for this Japanese pysch outfit, this was not so. When the inevitable flurry of year end lists came, Ghost managed to grasp nothing but a few last place positions. Dominating the lists instead were Swedish pop bands and for the second consecutive year, another damn Montreal record released late in the season, a fact which undoubtedly contributed to the unwavering praise that it received. As much as we try to be conscious of it, the things that are ‘presently’ wowing us take precedence over past releases, even one as brilliant as Hypnotic Underworld.

For most people, this will likely be the first time they are exposed to the music of Ghost. Unless you’ve been a rabid connoisseur of indie music for the past five to ten years, or a psychedelic/prog foot soldier, the wonderful music of Lama Rabi Rabi and Snuffbox Immanence has passed you by. Lucky for you, Hypnotic Underworld is their most accomplished release to date and hopefully after hearing it you will have incentive enough to go out and procure those past gems. Unfortunately, the chance for music like this to excite audiences is often crippled with the stereotypes that go along with the word ‘psychedelic.’ Add to that Ghost’s reputation for squatting in abandoned temples, their commune-like existence and the description of a lot of their music as being meditative, and things are even worse. All I can do to dissuade any premature judgments is to describe in detail the music. The unbelievable, ethereal music.

As luck would have it, right from the start those fears about hippies may come creeping in. Hypnotic Underworld starts off with it’s sprawling four part title track. This is a long haul of creative, interesting improvisation, mostly a lot of sounds the band are making as they go along with the flow in the studio. Some rolling operatic lines kick in towards the end, building up to the wonderful finally of “Leave the World!” which, coincidentally, sounds like Ghost is doing just that. Next comes the band’s take on “Hazy Paradise,” easily one of the most majestic, beautiful songs I’ve heard all year. Michio Kurihara’s guitar licks at the end of the song retain a sort of Galaxie 500 sound, albeit much bolder; that same type of longing is in the notes (think the end of “Isn’t it a Pity” -- to reference another cover).

After the grandeur of “Hazy Paradise” is the mellowest song for the remainder of the album, “Kiseichukan Nite.” Ring leader Batoh reads something quietly from a book (you can hear the pages turning) while a flute dances in the background. Added recordings of dripping water complete the ambiance before everything fades away in a quietly growing rainstorm. I’ll skip a few incredible tracks so that you have the pleasure of hearing them yourself with no expectation. “Feed” though, absolutely demands me to try and do it justice. This is a song of supreme power. It starts off with a slow paced watery guitar, eventually drums kicking in and Batoh’s voice becoming brave and hopeful, before settling all back down to the original languid pace. After some more tension builds and a few other minor peaks pass, the song has a wonderfully prolonged orgasm in the form of crashing drums, cascading keyboard effect, grinding guitar, and most incredible of all, Batoh’s courageously shouted vocals. The force of it all comes flooding into the room, taking every breath you have away. Then come the strings! The triumphant strings!

“Holy High” is a nice, somewhat standard song, but this comes appreciated after the power of “Feed.” Last but certainly not least is the “Dominoes” cover you should have already heard about. It is quite literally a holy version of the song where (after the sound of a door opening passes) a colossal amount of organ and voices enter that are simply not of this world. Ghost were put on this Earth to make this type of music, psychedelia be damned. This is music for the soul. If you haven’t heard it already, push aside those pop records for now, and catch up on one of the best albums of 2004.

- Andrew Iliadis

/feb 15th 2005/