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Ola Podrida

Ghosts Go Blind

(Western Vinyl; US: 30 Apr 2013; UK: 6 May 2013)

The first track on Ghosts Go Blind, “Not Ready to Stop”, is also the album’s longest. It starts with softly ringing guitars, a stately shuffling beat, and then singer David Wingo’s plea. “Come on baby, can’t you stay?” he asks. And as he runs through reasons, he finally settles on “I’ve been spending all my money like a fool tonight, / And I’m just not ready to stop”. It’s a desperate move, and the song unfolds as such, into a near-chaotic, bleary-eyed unraveling of the night. The soft guitars take on a blurry edge, the drums ramp up, the bass rumble and coils. “It’s no fun”, Wingo admits as the sounds unravel late in the song, “being alone in the end”.


It’s a song with texture, but also with a sense of story and pace and atmosphere, one where the sounds shadow the emotions flawlessly without sapping them of their own power. This skill, which works its way throughout Ghosts Go Blind, is an impressive though perhaps unsurprising one from Wingo, who—when he’s not fronting Ola Podrida—does his share of movie scoring. That part of his musical life bleeds into his pop music without taking it over. But, on this third Ola Podrida album, it’s not just about Wingo’s talents. For this record, he assembled a solid, lean band—made up of players Colin Swietek, David Hobizal, and Matt Clark—and they recorded these tracks together live to tape.


And so yes there is something of Wingo’s musical intuition, but it’s the cohesion of the band that finally sells these songs. “Fumbling For the Light” could be another slight folk-pop tune if the cymbals didn’t shimmer to life, raising the whole song up under those sunburst guitars to something both sweet and muscled. “Blind to the Blues” is a spacious, quiet track, the kind of echoing tune that ripples out into a late and quiet evening. Wingo’s singing is soft and excellent, but it’s the band’s restraint—letting a small swell of guitar ring through here, a dusty riff there—that helps his words cast that long shadow. And when they pick up the pace on “Staying In”, the band loses none of its nuance. The riffs still make tight circles around Wingo’s voice, the drums pound but never overwhelm, the bass fills up a surprising amount of space, pushing what could be lean into much lusher more fascinating territory.


Ghosts Go Blind, in the end, succeeds mostly because it manages to pull tension out of spacious sounds. It never fully unleashes a rock fury and often deals in isolated space, but it never sounds slack or insular. The songs often look backwards or—in the case of “Not Ready to Stop”—seem intent on convincing us they’ve forgotten a painful past. When, on the title track, Wingo claims there was a sound and he “heard it like a clear and ringing bell”. On “Blind to the Blues” he sings about “late nights that summer and fall”. In both cases, the past seems distant, almost from another life. And yet, the feeling of it is immediate, still pulsing in every moment of these songs, in every note Wingo sings. There’s a more personal memory in all of this—a “you” that is very much missed—and so, while Wingo admits “I get lost in all these thoughts” in closer “Notes Remain” he also reminds us “but I don’t mind”.


This is not the first pop record to feel lost in romance of the past, but it’s one of the more convincing versions of that theme. No wonder “notes remain” for Wingo since, on “Blind to the Blues”, he assures that “you” that “we were always in tune”. It’s in that line, that hint of a lingering connection, that Ghosts Go Blind builds its myriad moods and emotions successfully. In the same way “Not Ready to Stop” opens up into hazy uncertainly, into isolation, so does much of the record. But the notes do always ring out, they do always remain, shadowed perhaps but coated in just enough treble, just enough echo, to sound hopeful. There’s the feeling that next mention of these memories will be fonder in the light of a long-needed reunion. It’s a love story, in other words. A complicated, bittersweet one. Wingo and his band are just the guys to craft a soundtrack to just such a story. And they do so here, often beautifully.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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Ola Podrida - Staying In
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