Grandpa’s Ghost: (The Tumble/Love Version): Read Past the Static (Upland Records)

This two-disc set is an all-out assault on the senses, with a furious feast of feedback à la Neil Young’s Arc/Weld.

Yikes! They’re not just content to sit on their porch with acoustics out there in Pocahontas, Illinois, this time, like on their previous record, Starlight and Smog. Nor are they offering soundtracks to the subconscious and the mysteries of the universe as on their 2000 masterpiece, Il Bacio. No, Grandpa’s Ghost are going right fer the throat this time, kids. This two-disc set is an all-out assault on the senses, with a furious feast of feedback à la Neil Young’s Arc/Weld. There’s a dash or two of early Sonic Youth here; hell, there’s some Metal Machine Music–like moments.

With an attitude beyond even punk’s abandon, guitarists Ben Hanna and Bill Emerson and drummer Jack Petracek blast these blistering noisescapes into the chilly air, losing themselves, and quite probably most listeners, in the process. Their complete aural mutilation of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is really quite humorous and goes up there with what the Residents did to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” back in the ’70s (i.e., render it unrecognizable). The 28-minute electric multi-guitar crash that comprises “D.O.A.” may or may not be based on the morbid Bloodrock tune about, well, a car crash—it’s hard to tell because this is all noisy, feverish guitar chaos, kinda like maybe being in a horrible accident, tumbling down a steep hill, then wandering around in shock for half an hour.

Chris Dee and Dave Stone contribute to this charming madness, which is followed, in true Ghost fashion, by an unlikely—and almost delicate—Neil Young cover, “Love in Mind.” The Ghost are well-established disciples of Young, not only in their love of fuzzed-out electric guitar soundscapes, but in Neil’s oft-voiced belief that capturing the feel of the moment is what matters most.

It’s figuring out what that “feel” might have been that creates some of the fun of GG records. Artistically, these guys are spooky—and I mean that as a compliment. Something happened to them since their early days making rootsy, almost normal records; their aesthetic, their whole attitude toward music became much more willful and insular. And whatever the precipitating events, the inspiration resulted in musical art of exceptional originality; moments on both their previous records (and keep in mind that Stardust and Smog was a double, like this one) are among the most startling and hypnotic sounds ever to come out of this region. Some of the crunchy rock here, like “Blackie,” “The Queen of Crumpled Steel,” “Cheap Bracelet,” and the potent “Black Velvet Stars” and its companion piece “War,” both of which feature the Star Death’s Tobi Parks on bass, could probably be slipped into the changer at a beer-fueled party without too many complaints; it has tremendous energy and rock ’n’ roll panache.

But some of the meandering narrative moments on disc two and the more abrasive feedback workouts will be taxing to many listeners. And you know what? Good! Grandpa’s Ghost have a real sense of abandon in their music that many lesser bands could learn from. They don’t reveal the “why’s” of what they do; their goals are musical self-expression and psychic/visceral release, and if the results limit their audience, well, too damn bad. I love the unpredictable nature of this band; they are denizens of a rock ’n’ roll wilderness that is rapidly being deforested. And they can reach deep into your senses to responses you didn’t know you were capable of if you let them. As this album’s sub-title says, you have to “Read Past the Static” to get the Ghost. And even if you don’t, oh, well. Whoever said life—or art—should be easy?

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