If you were wondering what Nicolas Fromageau has been doing since quitting the synth-pop group M83 in 2004, well, here’s your answer: he’s started a new band, released a couple of EPs and, now, a full-length debut album, Rituals. If you come to Team Ghost, though, with the expectations of hearing more John Hughes-inspired soaring anthems, you may be a tad bit disappointed. The press has dubbed the music of Team Ghost as “coldgaze” – which is what you’d get if you combined the guitar histrionics of Sonic Youth or a shoegazer band like My Bloody Valentine with the cooler and darker synth sounds of, say, a Joy Division. Indeed, Rituals would appear to be a very bleak affair given some of the song titles – “Dead Film Star”, “Things Are Sometimes Tragic” and “Pleasure That Hurts” – but it turns out that the album isn’t quite depressing, as “Dead Film Star” in particular has a poppy, upbeat sound to it. But Team Ghost can get creepy. “Somebody’s Watching” is essentially about voyeurism (“Somebody’s watching / It turns me on”, go the lyrics.)
And while Fromageau and his cohorts are nudging their sound into slightly more experimental territory, there remains a hint of the M83 DNA in this band’s signature. In fact, it’s quite the affecting mix of British shoegaze of the ‘90s and warm, dream-like keyboards that wash over the listener, and much of this material is quite catchy and hardly the slightly impenetrable stew in the vein of a Brian Eno that the group would like to believe it is. However, if there’s a fault with Rituals, it’s that its strongest material takes up the front half of the record: the LP more or less begins to run out of steam a little bit about halfway through as the band slows down the pace a little bit in the mid-section and let the keyboards come to the fore. As well, you begin to realize that the group has only one or two tricks up its sleeve, with guitars doing little other than freaking out and keyboards holding sustained chords to create little else but atmosphere, which means the songs truthfully begin to sound a little alike after awhile. Still, Rituals is a very good album when it’s on fire, and while the band might not have quite grasped the album concept yet, it serves as an interesting counterpart to latter day M83. So if you like your synth-pop to be a slighter shade of gray than what M83 has been doing as of late, Rituals might just hit the spot.