Oren Ambarchi 2024
Photo: Thobias Fäldt / Drag City

‘Ghosted II’ Continues Enigmatic Project Led by Oren Ambarchi

Ghosted II is the intensely cerebral successor to 2022’s Ghosted, with Oren Ambarchi’s ensemble plumbing the depths of post-rock and avant-jazz.

Ghosted II
Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin
Drag City
26 April 2024

Ghosted II is the second album by the provisional trio of Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werliin. Berthling is a Swedish musician who plays upright bass. Werliin is a Swedish percussionist. Ambarchi, the best-known of the three, is an Australian guitarist and composer. He has over five dozen albums to his credit, including collaborations with musicians and bands like Jim O’Rourke, Alan Licht, Keiji Haino, and Sunn O))) – in short, he has a lot of range. Together, Ambarchi, Berthling, and Werliin released their first installment, Ghosted, in 2022.

Ghosted and Ghosted II are for a particular kind of audience. Given the pedigree of the musicians involved, these are intensely cerebral, enigmatic recordings that are difficult to classify, situated somewhere between post-rock and avant-jazz. Depending on your taste, these LPs will either be entrancing or perplexing. Entirely instrumental, Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werliin are committed to building hypnotic soundscapes through repetitive percussive beats, basslines, and drone-adjacent experiments with guitar. There is a sense of equity and equanimity among the three, each performing their particular instrumental role by responding to the others but not overtaking them. 

Both Ghosted and Ghosted II consist of only four tracks, with each album lasting about 40 minutes. They mirror one another in this structural way. However, there are key differences. Ghosted is more animated by Ambarchi’s guitarwork. On that album, his presence is held back initially, gradually coming into the foreground after ten minutes or so amid the second track. By track “III”, his guitar takes control, starting the proceedings. Like a candle flame, it flickers unpredictably, fading or intensifying depending on the surrounding circumstances. Ambarchi plays beautifully – as do Berthling and Werliin – coloring in spaces with notes and tones, his guitar providing more ambience than melodic guidance, allowing for the rhythm section to have its role in creating mood. 

Ghosted II continues this approach with variations here and there. It is more reserved and more expansive than its predecessor, which makes sense for a sequel: no introductory elaborations are needed, but a sense of progress is. On the first track, “En”, Ambarchi brings a conversational quality to his guitar once more. Like an occurrence of northern lights, its effects shiver in and out, spectral in nature, with Ambarchi using them to cast attention toward and contextualize the drums and bass.

The second composition, “Två” (Swedish numerals are used), is softer, with Werliin’s percussion standing out to define the track. “Tre” follows suit until midway, when a delicate and intricate melodic line from a string instrument sounding like a Japanese koto comes in, which lightens the mood like raindrops. The final track, “Fyra”, sustains this elevated feeling, concluding with a sequence of notes that sound like they are evaporating into silence.

Ghosted and Ghosted II are nearly inscrutable in terms of intention, beyond three excellent musicians coming together to improvise. No promotional information was provided for Ghosted II, only the music itself. That said, Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werliin inhabit a ground somewhere between Tortoise, Faust, and John Zorn, which is a rarified space. Like most ambient works, there is an unresolved tension between authorship and anonymity, with each musician playing a vital role only to have their participation willingly dissolved into a larger work.

I listened to Ghosted II while commuting by subway in New York and traveling from New York to Maine and back by train. This album is both demanding and supplementary, able to conform to different social contexts and scenes of social life. There are moments of introspection, uncertainty, and anxiety but also emotional release on this new LP. It’s unclear whether these two albums form a suite or whether a third album is forthcoming. These three musicians have chemistry, for sure. However, the elusive spirit of these recordings and the term “ghosted”, as understood in contemporary parlance, suggest this ensemble could just as easily disappear by design without a word.

RATING 7 / 10