[11 March 2014]
A couple years back Brooklyn-based duo Josh Ocean and Eric Mendelsoh played a new track for their producer’s six-year-old daughter. The little girl told them they should call the song “Ghost Beach”—a name she got from the title of a Goosebumps book. Doing her one better, that’s what they named the band. R.L. Stine origins notwithstanding, it’s an exceedingly fitting naming for this synth pop, occult-inflected music moment, when some young producers are still appropriating from saccharine, euphoria-inducing groups like Passion Pit while others are trending toward grungier, distorted guitar riffs and supernatural, macabre motifs. Nominally, Ghost Beach sums up both strands of this current generation of synth-wielding and MPC-sampling musicians.
Here’s the thing, though: Ocean and Mendelsoh’s band name has a completely incidental relationship to the music they’re producing. Ghost Beach is making eclectic electro-pop, full of soaring synths, aching-falsetto vocals, and all sorts of pretty, unabashedly emo textures. One of their professed influences is the Police, and Blonde definitely sports an ‘80s vibe with Ocean’s brash, anthemic vocals, sometimes structured for maximum pop addictiveness, other times a continuous flow that’s so breathless it achieves a sort of glam rock theatricality while still keeping a fully modern lyricism. But Ghost Beach’s sound is so slippery and spastic in its mid-album transformations that, despite their sprawling constellation of influences, it’s best to approach them on their own merits. This is one of those albums that you don’t just listen to half of the songs and “get”. It’s triumphantly amorphous, and draws on such a wild, swirling cauldron of inspiration that it sounds like three different records spliced together.
“Moon Over Japan” is a brazen declaration of an album opener, announcing Blonde‘s full-throttle pop with a towering synth intro and a warm, rapturous clatter of percussion. Certain tracks strongly recall Passion Pit’s Manners; another influence of Ghost Beach’s, Ocean and Mendelsoh are clearly trying to rouse that same ecstatic, synth-drenched joy, funneling infectious melodies right into Ocean’s Angelakos-esque, male-ingénue choruses, as in “Been There Before”. While “Been There Before” suffers through a strange ‘80s-arcade instrumental bridge, it still seems destined to blare out of frat party speakers in the coming spring months.
But what makes Blonde an impressive album isn’t how it’s positioned itself to inherit the post-adolescent coed pop throne vacated by MGMT and then later the aforementioned Passion Pit, as both groups stumbled mightily to recapture the unselfconscious spontaneity that made their debuts so good. What’s so thrilling and rare is how Blonde so thoroughly distinguishes itself from those would-be antecedents. On “Close Enough”, Ghost Beach brings in Noosa to lay some feathery female vocals over the slushy torrent of samples and drum loops. Then, in “Without You”, they unleash a sick, swaggering reggae groove, expanding their rather astonishing repertoire as a self-proclaimed “tropical grit-pop” band. And there’s no doubt, this duo was seemingly formed for the express purpose of ushering in the summer months. Whether it’s the jaunty beats, syncopated guitar rhythms, or dramatic drops, Blonde feels like the soundtrack to a neon-swathed beach house party, a joy ride on a cool summer night, or a nostalgia-fueled recreation of the original passion pits.