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Ghostland Observatory

Ghostland Observatory

Live from Austin Texas

(New West; US DVD: 13 Nov 2007)

It took me a good four songs to realize whether this was one of the best concert experiences of my life —or the worst— but I suppose the final couple minutes of “Midnight Voyage” speaks for itself. Ghostland Observatory just can’t keep it together, and there ain’t that much happening to keep tabs on.

That track blatantly reveals the limit of their combined skills and stamina to any viewer regardless of intellect or species. And yet, what these two Southern gentlemen lack in discernable talent, they more than make up for with “spirit”. Despite the mostly pre-programmed music and relatively uncomplicated human contributions, there’s something intangibly addictive about their presentation. If you truly believe in yourself, other people will believe in you, too… just look at Scientology.

Soulful spaz Aaron Behrens and caped producer Thomas Turner are obviously into what they’re doing, something they liken to “a robot making love to a tree”. Aaron assaults the mic and preaches like Sam Cooke if he was in a Dave Grohl video, with his long braids, vintage looking oriental shirt, and Hunter Thompson glasses. He sings carefully pieced and placed lines as if he’s a programmed sample.

Occasionally, Aaron picks up a guitar and plays a basic, repeating phrase to compliment his singing, but it’s mostly about his Johnny Depp meets Robert Plant stage presence. He is tripping balls, clapping, kicking, and rapping the whole time, and at what a pace. He could give the Energizer bunny cramps.

It’s kinda like hearing four-second loops from The Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” over and over. Under normal circumstances, that would normally kill you, but all the while you can’t stop watching that crazy dude prancing and jiving around the stage next to Turner’s cloaked drum machine, which provides the steady pulse of retro sci-fi beats and vocoder drones to counterpoint Aaron’s rock and soul. It’s like a car crash in a discothèque and the invitations are dipped in speed and MDMA.

The Ghostland Observatory caricature of disco-rock combined with the unmistakable swagger of two hopeful artists totally digging their own schtick is blatantly awkward, yet equally oddly compelling. They look like they would be happy to live in front of that Austin City Limits audience forever, but also that they’d be rocking out with the same tenacity whether there were people there watching or not.

Actually, they had probably already done it for years with no one there, and that’s an important part of the growing, creative process manufactured acts can’t fake with all the studio magic in technology today. While I don’t think this particular July 10th performance will be considered their seminal work, nor is it really essential to anyone not on the fringes of electronic pop, I believe they are capable of something truly impressive if they keep up the hard work. Whatever small thing it is they are missing, that x-factor to put them over the top, will eventually find them.


Compelled to words by music since 2004, Ranta's words have appeared in such esteemed publications as Exclaim!, Tiny Mix Tapes, CBC Music, and PopMatters. He also regularly votes for the Polaris Music Prize, Village Voice Pazz & Jop, Juno Awards, and in all local, provincial, and federal elections. Based in East Vancouver, he's been known to a rave and/or rant, cat whisper, play basketball, pessimistically root for the Canucks, and read far too many comment sections. He graduated with distinction from SFU in 2012, with a bachelor's degree in music.

Ghostland Observatory - "Vibrate"
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