Former Ghosts


by Ian Mathers

11 April 2010

cover art

Former Ghosts


(Upset the Rhythm)
US: 20 Nov 2009
UK: 14 Dec 2009

Almost all of the press Former Ghosts have received has been focused on either Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart or Nika Roza of the fast-rising Zola Jesus. Which isn’t really fair to Freddy Ruppert of This Song Is a Mess But So Am I—from the liner notes of Fleurs and listening to the songs, it’s pretty clear that these are mostly his songs, with Stewart and Roza providing able support. But at least the intersection of Xiu Xiu (circa, say, “Pox” and their cover of New Order’s “Ceremony”) and Zola Jesus gives you some idea of what Former Ghosts are up to here.

Fleurs is a polarizing album, but not in an insincere way. You don’t get the sense that Ruppert and co. are trying to alienate anyone, but in general either you’re going to really love the tinny production, roughed-up synthesizer tones, intensely personal lyrics, and general air of darkness that Former Ghosts traffic in, or you’re probably not going to get all of the way through Fleurs. It’s not unpleasant music by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also not the sort of thing people tend to throw on in the background. This is music that both rewards and comes from serious personal commitment, that’s as much about catharsis as it is sonics. At it’s best, like “Hold On”, “Mother”, or the Roza-sung “The Bull and the Ram”, it’s undeniably powerful stuff.

That also means that many listeners aren’t necessarily going to have a lot of room for Fleurs in their life. That’s not Former Ghosts’ fault (and I doubt that Ruppert, Stewart, and Roza care), and arguably the things that most powerfully affect us are those things that by their very nature can’t be widely loved. Perversely, it’s that uncompromising quality that is why I’d recommend Former Ghosts to people over less extreme bands. Not everyone will love this music, but anyone who falls for their bracingly harsh and occasionally atonal brand of synth-pop will fall hard.



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