Music

Ghostland Observatory: Codename: Rondo

The two guys in Ghostland Observatory are from Austin, Texas, but they seem to wish they resided in the Dark Underbelly of the Myth of America.


Ghostland Observatory

Codename: Rondo

Label: Trashy Moped
US Release Date: 2010-10-26
UK Release Date: 2010-10-25
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

In “Give Me the Beat”, a winning little song halfway through Codename: Rondo, Ghostland Observatory singer Aaron Behrens struts down the boulevard of some seedy nighttown. A “pusherman” offers him ups and downs, whites and greens; a guy in a Cadillac tries to sell him some hot jewelry; a pimp extols the services of Sheila and Jeanine (“Legs for days, they go both ways!”). To each of these characters Behrens politely replies, “That ain’t for me / Just gimme the beat!” Then the swinging electrobeat in question bounces him along on his merry way. Listening to this pollyannaish story, it’s hard not to worry for the guy. He might as well have a target on his back.

The two guys in Ghostland Observatory are from Austin, Texas, but they seem to wish they resided in the Dark Underbelly of the Myth of America. Onstage, programmer and instrumentalist Thomas Turner wears a cape, just like Shelia and Jeanine’s pimp. Their songs crawl with fortune tellers and cops; ne’er-do-wells Dmitri, Jim, and Codename Rondo himself work some sinister “job”. The music’s equally dark. It’s all sparse, dry beats with minimal synth lines, occasional guitar, and effects distorting the vocals. These guys aren’t shy about their scrounge-rock influences. “Glitter” swipes Gary Glitter’s most famous groove. “Body Shop” blatantly mixes the drums from Prince’s “Hot Thing” with the car-sex metaphors from 1999. When Codename Rondo’s boss sends him to the Slurpee Station for a “drank”, he orders -- what else? -- a “Suicide”.

Frankly, Ghostland Observatory's music is minimal it often sounds like they tried to do as little as possible to create it. About half the songs have what you’d call “hooks”, while others are simply monologues, Vocodered and otherwise, over insistent two-chord vamps. Sometimes they pull off cool sound effects: a cowbell hitting inside the echoey concrete shell of a public bathroom (“Time”), a slam up and down the synthesized fretboard (“That’s Right”). Pleasant as they are, few of Ghostland’s songs reach out and grab you. They’re lucky Turner makes such appealing beats, because usually those beats are all that keep you hanging on.

The lyrics certainly aren’t up to that task. As refreshingly detailed as their illicit narratives can be, Ghostland Observatory songs rarely explore beneath their rock-noir surfaces. In “Mama”, the slow one (and the worst one), Behrens sings a loping farewell to you-know-who, telling her “the time has come to leave again.” (That “Bohemian Rhapsody” nod may be a response to all the Freddy Mercury comparisons he gets.) He moans, “This lonely road can be so dark, can be so cold,” but he never explains which road he’s singing about. Is it the boulevard he was strutting down earlier? The road of crime that leads to prison? The Walk of Life, applicable to all? Or is this farewell just an isolated page torn from his diary? The same thing happens in “Miracles”. The fortune teller screams, “The future’s like the weather, baby / There ain’t no guarantees... that’s a guarantee!” Good advice as far as it goes, but Behrens leaves us with no idea why the advice might matter (or, for that matter, why he’s delivering it with a British accent). If this were a Springsteen song, we’d see the fortune teller’s advice pan out in the narrator’s life, to rueful or devastating effect, or we’d see that the narrator’s future is all too determined, and we’d reflect on how none of us can escape fate, or providence, whatever you wanna call it. We all are fortune’s fools...

That’s silly; this is a dance record. At times it’s a pretty good one, and I haven’t even mentioned the best song yet. “Kick Clap Speaker” closes the album with a shot of squelchy acid house, Speak & Spell vocals, and laser fire. It’s the richest, fullest-sounding track out of 10. Ghostland Observatory should make a whole album as gripping. First, they’ll have to realize that a beat isn’t always enough.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image