On their sophomore release, the Ghost have evolved beautifully into an arty but bitter postpunk act capable of sophisticated songwriting. The tunes are punctuated by singer Brian Moss' emotional outbursts and reflective lyrics all clearly written without a rhyming dictionary anywhere in sight.
- Zena Tsarfin
The days of romantic conquest – be it through exploration of deep jungles or through the violence of warfare – are long gone, left in the days of Victorian ethics, steam-powered vehicles and American isolationism. There's nothing left to conquer: The world's mapped out, the days of globe-spanning empires, rich with colonized and conquered locals, is gone. Adventurous young men need to look elsewhere to test their mettle.
These days, conquest is done in the public arena, under the banner of rock'n'roll. What else could be as big of an adventure as life in a band? It's four dudes against the world, traveling into towns and making nocturnal raids on local pop culture. Fight well and your music takes over a piece of your audiences' hearts. Fight poorly, and you're defeated with indifference.
Few albums seem as wrapped up in the notion of musicians as conquering heroes and albums as salvos in pop-cultural warfare as The Ghost's This Pen is a Weapondoes. "Broken Ears/Poison Hearts" opens the album with a thunderous call to arms with skitterish guitar melodies that float along like Fugazi, Q and Not U or a million other D.C.-styled post-hardcore bands on a handful of Quaaludes. Singer/guitarist Brian Moss' barked delivery adds a sense of urgency to the act's fairly languid tone, wrapping up the song with the manifesto of "This culture, or lack thereof/It is not mine." The statement lays down the act's direction for the rest of the album.
The Ghost fights a cultural war, a battle to bring the underground's artistic ethos to the masses. "Mad Max was an Amateur," a typical road-warrior band tale, plays like a soldier's letters home, set to a throbbing post-hardcore arrangement. In "Modern Restlessness," Moss screams a call to arms for all underground acts to stand and fight the good fight: "This pen is a weapon/Your voice could be a threat/I say keep music dangerous/I say keep music dangerous," he challenges as his band walks the tightrope between melodic hooks and angular dissonance. "… And Now For My Disappearing Act" condemns the world's way of whitewashing hopes and dreams with doses of reality and survival, while "Exorcism in the Key of A Minor" challenges listeners to break out of their comfortably numb ruts and flirt with disaster and failure to reach for something larger.
This Pen is a Weapon's dedication to the underground's art-rock revolution is second only to that of Fugazi's lifelong scorn for the American dream. The Ghost's convictions are impressing. Convictions aren't everything, however, as while rife with inspirational calls to arms, The Ghost still sounds less than visionary with its mundane take on post-hardcore sounds. Powerful it is, but the band will have to find something farther off the beaten path if it wants its urges for individualism really to carry weight.
- Matt Schild
LOST AT SEA
This Pen Is a Weapon throws down some serious rock, from the feedback that opens "Broken Ears/Poison Hearts" to the slow burn of the closer, "We Shall Persist." The Ghost make no bones about it, they are here to rock your ass off.
Their 2002 Steve Albini recorded debut, This Is a Hospital, laid the ground work for their caustic guitar driven rock and received some critical praise. For This Pen Is a Weapon, The Ghost relocated from Berkley/Oakland, CA to Chicago where they recorded with Brian Deck. The move has definitely paid off: The Ghost sound right at home with Chicago's growing post-rock scene. Their dissonant guitars, half screamed half shouted vocals and raw production work perfectly with one another.
"Broken Ears/Poison Hearts" makes for the perfect rock opener. Feedback grows from the background as the drums start pounding away, and then the guitars enter with their picked melodies learned from listening to hours and hours of Sweep the Leg Johnny. Brian Moss's strained shouts add to the tension as he opens with "All comfort has its consequence/There is blood in our leisure". New member Paul Lask's guitar lines and experimental melodies interplay with Moss's guitar as Randy Bleichner's drums crash in the background with Jordan Schalich's bass. The Ghost slips right into "Exorcism in the Key of A Minor". Moss screams "Writing in circles and tearing out pages/ Quietly plotting our fictional lives" as the guitars seamlessly transition from subdued melodies to full on power chords.
Deck's production favors The Ghost's raucous guitars and booming rhythm section, which provide much of the energy and immediacy felt throughout This Pen Is a Weapon. Fortunately, Deck did not lose Moss's vocals in the mix, which are really the heart here; his lyrics are smartly written, scathing tales of angst and apathy. "Mad Max Was an Amateur" tells the story of an unknown rock band toiling on apartment floors with no money for food, playing shows for a love of music. Nowhere in Moss's lyrics does he come across as snotty or arrogant, which is refreshing when so many bands' lyrics are sappy and apathetic. "Banished and Loving It" is the most accessible song throughout, which pounds through four minutes of pure rock fury. Bleichner's frantic drums and Lask's punchy guitar create a whirlwind of fervor and energy on "A Letter from God". The Ghost keep throwing punches until the final track of This Pen Is a Weapon, "We Shall Persist" recalls early Sweep the Leg Johnny's slower tracks in an instrumental form.
Building from their great debut, The Ghost is now hitting on all cylinders. Their songwriting chops, lyrics and instrumentation only seem to get better with age. For pure Chicago influenced rock, it's hard to find much that tops what The Ghost are putting out.
- Craig Mertes
DELUSIONS OF ADEQUACY
Sophomore albums are a bitch. Sure, there are second albums that unconditionally destroy any preconceptions about one might have about the band. Nevermind is an obvious example, and the millions of Radiohead fanatics would probably set their attack zombie's on me if I didn't reference The Bends at some point. However, second albums have also been the bane of a band's existence, forever an easy target for faceless record reviewers bent on unleashing their frustrations over a piss-poor record. Find out your girlfriend is shagging the downstairs neighbor that borrowed your Belle & Sebastian CDs? No problem, why don't you give me 500 words on the second Elastica album. Show up for that Mogwai show only to find out that it was cancelled but your tickets are valid for the Pink Floyd tribute band Muddle? No worries, just give us 300 words on Leftfield's Rhythm and Stealth.
The Ghost's second offering is a difficult endeavor. When I heard This is a Hospital, I swore I had found my new favorite band. I destroyed vocal chords singing along to "Diffuser" and "Red Slippers Red Wheels." But This Pen is a Weapon scares the hell out of me. "Broken Ears/Poison Hearts" opens with a band plugging in, warming up the feedback and letting loose with a potent rhythm section. When the guitars start biting into the sound moments later, the song has built so much tension the relief of Brian Moss' vocals is almost welcome. I say almost because it becomes apparent that he is not fucking around this time, kids. The opening shriek of "All comfort has its consequence / There is blood in our leisure" is a clear sign of what's to come.
Gone are anti-relationship sentiments that appeared on tracks like "On and On." Moss' lyrics have taken a decidedly more serious tone. This is where we meet one of the albums few shortcomings. The opening track is heavy handed with Moss voice throwing out lines like "crowned butcher you're far from civilized / claiming progress in poisoned hearts." One can only assume that he's directing his piss and vinegar toward everyone's favorite whipping boy of the moment, "Dubya." However, accusations such as "the pied piper has an agenda of crusades and material incentives" could be any number of politicians. In today's world where half of the Warped Tour has appeared on one political compilation or another (hell Sum 41 managed to show up on that Rock Against Bush compilation in between making movies with Paris Hilton and making out with that Avril chick), vague references to the injustices going on inside the political machine that is the United States will not hit very hard.
After the first track, the album expands to crush with sound. Making excellent use of the bands' screamed and sung vocals, "Exorcism in the Key of A Minor" sounds ominous as Moss quietly sings "there are demons inside of us" before channeling all that's good and evil about rock into a tortured shriek of "this is an exorcism." It is so gut-wrenching you almost believe the man's head spun around and spewed hot water soup while recording the vocals. "...And Now for my Disappearing Act" is the obligatory ballad, and here the band allows itself to stretch out. Purists may be deterred by the electronic flourishes found on tracks like this and "The Skin We Shed Has Stories to Tell," but hopefully they'll see it as a band attempting to stretch beyond the boundaries set by the first album. The payoff is worth it, as the processed vocals on the latter add an nice urgent quality while the electronics on the former lend another layer of atmospherics to the mix.
Even the most critical of detractors will not be able to withstand the power of "A Letter from God." The album's stand-out track, this song alone is worth the CD purchase. For a little under four minutes, The Ghost lash out against the modern age, indicting "righteousness, you've built yourself a prison / how I wish you were all as smart / as you like to think you are / you filthy rat's what have you done? / eat. Fight. Fuck and sleep / now fill in the blanks." God is pissed and loving it, so better take cover because He's liable to go old testament on us at any moment.
If the album has another shortcoming, it is length. With only nine songs, the last of which being an instrumental piece that sounds like a Tortoise B-side, it ends too quickly. The last track is indeed tasty, and while it adds a pleasantly warm coda to the previously unleashed chaos, the choice of including it on the record is odd. Only minutes before in "Modern Restless," Moss is screaming "carry on with your pore-death post-rock / I'll be drinking with the hip hop kids down the block." While it is always nice to see a shout-out to the Atmosphere quoting backpack set, to follow up with an instrumental that sounds suspiciously post-rock is somewhat confusing. Still, The Ghost has made an album that expands on This is a Hosptial and spits a lot of meaning in its venom. At the time of this writing, the band's website is displaying "Forbidden." Hopefully this is not a forewarning of things to come; else The Ghost will take its place alongside Burning Airlines as a band that releases two brilliant albums and then quietly fade out.
- Eric McPhail
Chicago's The Ghost have been by-and-large an under the radar entity since their formation. Releasing a criminally underrated debut in the form of This Is A Hospital in 2002 and shortly thereafter taking to the road, the band have yet to really make their presence felt on more than a regional level. Though they did find themselves touring extensively with such reputable acts as Thursday, Rival Schools and Sparta, they always seemed one step behind in breaking through. Now the band has returned with This Pen Is A Weapon, an album that makes a bid at being one of the year's most delectable rock offerings.
The Ghost exude confidence through their art, championing their musical flaws with as much pride as they do their exquisite post-hardcore rhetoric. Their blatant avoidance at polishing the album, leaving each sloppy transition and each wavery vocal for everyone to notice is refreshing, displaying a Fugazi-like work ethic that strengthens their overall impact on the listener. From breezy melodies ala Onelinedrawing to raw, edgy rock in the vein of Quicksand, these men perform with a comforting ease. Top-notch songwriting is the anchor that keeps this album from drifting off, and as the outing progresses it becomes less a collection of songs as it is a book of aural poetry, rich with emotion and depth. "Modern Restless" cuts like a knife, disemboweling the way music has become less about challenging listeners and more about fashion and marketing, and this rallying cry is both encouraging and bittersweet in its honesty.
Decidedly basic yet continuously inventive, "This Pen Is A Weapon" proves that quality does not reside in production value, but in the inherent musical capabilities of the musicians performing, as The Ghost have created a modern classic built on powerful songwriting and genuine passion for the music being played. This is an album that espouses trends and instead only seeks to deliver a riveting rock experience, and on that front these men have succeeded. In the process, they have also compiled a record that once and for all should cement The Ghost in the top echelon of today's post-hardcore clique.
(4.5 / 5)
- Jason Doe
Music spoken from the heart with a knife to the throat. Finally a 2004 release that pushes the urgency to revive a dead genre. Chicago by-way-of-California genre-shaper's The Ghost brings back the revolutionary aspects of the movement of a disenchanted youth. Their second album, This Pen Is A Weapon, have people who aren't familiar with this type of movement-driven rock categorizing them in a league with MeWithoutYou but, their unique sound goes deeper into the wound of commercialized punk.
Intensity and integrity bring a shape to lyrics while intelligence fills the mold with honesty and beauty. The influence of mid-western indie rock can be found in the cracks of this sculpture. The Chicago scene has given birth to many no nonsense bands and The Ghost is no exception. Vocalist Brian Moss finds more emotion and resonation through a simple shudder or quiver then his contemporaries do through screams. But don't get this wrong, he does scream. And if you think he packs a punch through simple vocalization wait until you hear the guttural intensity he expresses through screams. This Pen Is a Weapon is not art for entertainment value. It is Art. Period. If one is able to enjoy great art by exceptionally intelligent artists than please do. Remember though, this album was made for people who feel this movement in the hearts and minds, not for fans of fashionable screaming vocalist and studded belts.
In this case the pen's not the only weapon. The Ghost also come armed to the teeth with frothy guitar fuzz, honest lyrics, and funky bass with crunchy crispy percussion. Now calling Chicago their home, they were originally from the Bay Area. They're sure to now make people think their name along with the likes of Rise Against and Alkaline Trio when thinking of punk rock from Chicago. You just knew this band was something special when their first tour was with Rival Schools and Thursday in '01 after releasing their debut "This Is a Hospital". Sure they may journey down the road of ironic, meaningless, and head-scratching song titles—"Mad Max Was an Amatuer", "The Skin We Shed Has Stories to Tell", "Exorcism in the Key of A Minor", and "…and Now For My Disappearing Act" are some examples—but that's where the clichés begin and end. Out on Some Records, go get this album; after all it features the Wurlitzer!
This is the second album from Chicago's The Ghost. They're still doing what they did on their last LP, as well as in guitarist/singer Brian Moss's old band, The Wunder Years. Luckily for them, they make it work very well. The Ghost plays mid-tempo, sometimes melodic, sometimes noisy post-hardcore. They've managed to keep a good amount of their obvious hardcore influence in their sound, but also they incorporate elements of bands like Jawbreaker and Cursive to round it all out and create something unique. All nine songs fit very well together to make a coherent album, rather than just a collection of songs. The record goes by pretty quickly, full of raw energy and momentum. Though track 5 slows everything down and doesn't really fit in with the rest, its just a slight distraction from the rest of the record. A few things got to me about this album, though. First off, their first LP was recorded by Steve Albini, who is absolutely perfect for this sort of band. This record, however, was done by someone else whose production levels really detract from the band's strong points. The vocals are entirely too loud and overpower the instruments at times, and the drums are barely ever loud enough, leaving some songs sounding like they're lacking energy where an engineer like Albini would have pushed them to the forefront. The record still sounds good, but it's frustrating knowing it could sound better. Another thing that irks me- in "Modern Restless", which is basically their anthem for their band, they attack insincere and financially based "punk" and insist that music should stay dangerous and exciting. One style of music they attack is post-rock. The next track, the final one on the album, is a moody, atmospheric, instrumental song. It seemed a bit hypocritical to me, but maybe they realized in their own confused way that calm, soft music can be just as exciting as loud, fast music.
NOW ON TOUR
Chicago's The Ghost are exactly what the punk rock world needs. Their brand of unpolished, unrelenting rock and roll is a breath of fresh air of indie rock, filled with social commentary and jagged guitars of Fugazi and Cursive. It is best represented when Brian Moss, singer-guitarist, screams "This is an exorcism!" This is the essence of their album, The Ghost's This Pen Is A Weapon.
Fresh off the heels of This Is A Hospital, The Ghost come back with the same post-punk fury and un-produced sound, but this time with different ideas, pushing the envelope of the genre. The album starts with "Broken Ears/Poison Hearts" with The Ghost's trademark yelling and back to a whisper vocals, mixing in melodic yet chaotic sound. Later in the album, The Ghost almost go into ballad territory with "…And Now For My Disappearing Act" which is ultimately the best song on the album. The interplay of the dual guitars is amazing, using acoustics to give texture to the verses while the border-line slide guitar of the chorus yanks at your heartstrings.
While The Ghost may unleash scores of emotions through their music, if it's either through their controlled chaos or melodic introspection, that's not their intention. The Ghost's lyrics and vocals are owed a lot to Ian McKaye. Even singer Brian Moss' diction is very similar to McKaye's. Either way, this is what the delivery and lyrical content of Moss needs. Lyrics like "What have you done?/How will you numb yourself next?" (on the rocker "A Letter From God") actually force you to ask that question for yourself.
The Ghost experiment with a healthy number of instruments (like Wulitzer organs, acoustic guitars, keyboards) on This Pen Is A Weapon. The best example of the instruments being used is on "…And Now For My Disappearing Act." The only bad example of experimentation is their pirate-like breakdown on "Mad Max Was An Amateur." It may possibly lead listeners who don't dig deep into this record to dismiss them.
Ultimately, if The Ghost's intention is making one think through their lyrics or music on This Pen Is A Weapon, they have truly succeeded. Look out for this band to turn some heads when they go on tour with their chaotic post-punk sound.
- Matthew Nanes
As the album title alludes, The Ghost have something to say. According to their bio, they have voluntarily exiled themselves, and are kicking down social ladders. While I don't see any change of that sort coming, they do have some clever wordings and stories along the way.
From what I can gather though, their agenda seems to be harping on others without really setting up anything of their own--such as in 'Banished and Loving It' where Moss yells "It is easier to judge a voice than to use one". It would seem they are rallying to use a voice instead of judging, but they seem to be judging only in the song, so maybe I misunderstood. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are going to political rallies and producing social change.
As cynical as that last paragraph was, The Ghost does have a lot to offer on a couple of standout tracks including; Exorcism In The Key of a Minor, and Mad Max was an Amateur.
The Ghost has a very primal feeling that comes from its plodding guitars and lead singer/guitarist Ben Moss' throaty vocals. Moss' vocals are probably the hinge on where someone will decide if they like The Ghost or not. They can be very rough and raspy. They work very well during about half of the album such as when he is screaming "This Is An Exorcism!" in Exorcism In The Key of a Minor, but not as well during the other half when he is singing.
This Pen Is A Weapon itself has the sounds of one of the directions post-hardcore as gone into. They keep away from emo/screamo completely, opting for rougher singing and sticking to harder guitars. Check these guys out if you are into rough and tumble wordsmithing and from the sound of it they give a great live show.
- Derek Skillings
Interesting coincidence here. The first time I put this record on at home one of my friends mentioned that the guy sounded like the guy from the wunder years (singer-songwriter brian moss). A couple minutes later, my roommate goes "oh, I wonder if this is my friend brian's band." Turns out my roommate's band opened shows for Brian's old ska band Alien Spy back in Berkeley, and he's known him for some time. OK, so it wasn't interesting at all, but that is neither here nor there. This cd, however, is very interesting. it's like a synthesis of chunky old-cursive guitars, a touch of irish folk, a voice that blends from sounding like the Murder City Devils or Against Me to a laid back Jawbreaker melodic feel, and precise percussion tying it all together. The music stays interesting, transitioning between driving choruses and quieter, artsy verses. The album takes off energetically and slowly calms down to the instrumental last track, slowly phasing out the faster songs for slower, more melodic efforts. The first tracks are fast and driving, using the thick voice interwoven once in a while with the jawbreaker sounding emo voice, and before the record ends they return again to the more energetic feel (modern restless) before ending with a laid back instrumental. There is some emo in this as well, evident in the fifth song (banished and loving it) and also interspersed in the faster music on the rest of the record, but they definitely manage to stay believable and heartfelt without sounding cheesy and trite. The diversity of this album is its strength. It has so many different elements but manages to stay smooth and uncluttered, with clean transitions that make sense and complete songs that feel like they have developed and finished well. The only bummer is that its only nine songs, and really only eight with lyrics. It does, however, still manage to clock in at nearly forty minutes long, so that can give you an idea of how developed the songs are. This is a great cd, go pick it up.