Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ghostly, Collaborations and Tangents

"We get in the sandbox with other creative companies whenever it makes sense. We obviously love Adult Swim as do a lot of our fans, so it was a no-brainer. We were allowed a lot of creative latitude to represent the brand both musically and visually... The point of being involved in music and art is to try to keep things interesting for both our fans and ourselves. It's an advantage that small companies like ours have, so it would be a shame not to get in the sandbox once in a while."
-Sam Valenti IV, from an interview with Cool Hunting on Ghostly International's recent project with Adult Swim.

Ghostly Swim [mixed and engineered by Josh Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv] is a milestone for the label in many ways. It reafirms Ghostly's position as leader in innovative marketing and should propell the brand to a much larger audience base. More importantly though, it represents an already strong label coming into maturity.

No hyperbole here, Ghostly Swim is the strongest compilation the little label from Ann Arbor has put out yet - including Disco Nouveau, which put Ghostly on the map. Most great LPs are lucky to have one or two "just-stop-you-in-your-tracks" moments. Ghostly Swim has a half dozen such moments. [Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call - possibly the most emotionally wrenching LP ever - had maybe three or four.]

The Reflecting Skin
Danny Scales a.k.a. The Reflecting Skin

Most interestingly, despite strong work from label stalwarts Dabrye, Osborne, Kill Memory Crash and Matthew Dear, the most powerful tracks come from recent signings. Without question, the standout track on this comp is "Traffickers" by The Reflecting Skin. Dethlab played an ealry version of this song every night of the "Now We Are Dead" tour with Solvent and Lowfish, and we have never had so many strangers come up and ask who it was. Same response, every city. [I personally think The Reflecting Skin best represents where electronic dance music is headed.] Toybreaker said of Traffickers, "it makes you stop whatever you're doing and calls attention to the Dune sized bassworms that are ravaging your bowels."
'Nuf said.

My second favorite track on the compilation is "Squirmy Sign Language" by Ben Benjamin - formerly of Midwest Product. It doesn't sound anything like the MWP you know. Like The Reflecting Skin, this is dark and lush electronic music equally fit for suicidal bedrooms or moody dancefloors at 4AM. Beautiful.

Third is my new most favoritest Detroit-area artist Deastro. "Light Powered" is a great track, but you should check out his album The Young Planets - Time the Teenage Twister on iTunes. Imagine if you will, Goudron meets Soviet meets Casiotone For The Painfully Alone meets Laibach meets The Lightining Seeds... and then add a healthy dash of My Robot Friend's sense for theatre.

Canadian producer Milosh's "Then It Happened" was perhaps the biggest surprise and most emtionally captivating track on the entire compilation. When I hear this song, I shut down and can't do anything but listen.

Other major highlights from Ghostly Swim include Tycho's "Cascade", Aeroc's "Idiom", School of Seven Bells' "Chain", and The Chap's "Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley" - my favorite from their brilliant new LP Mega Breakfast.

To be objective and fair, I certainly don't love all of it, but I appreciate the eclecticism and how it all works together. This is a really mature and well thought out collection of music.

Ghostly Swim will be available for a little less than two months as a free download, so grab it now! A reinterpertation will be available on CD this autumn.

Spectral Sound / We Work For Them
We Work For Them for Spectral Sound

In addition to collaborating wht Adult Swim, Ghostly has recently worked with design icons Mike Cina and Mike Young of We Work For Them. [I've loosely been friends with Mike Young since the early days of the internets, due in large part to to his experimental projects with Mike Madill and 19.5 Collective.]

Cina has provided artwork for Ghostly's sister label Spectral Sound, including Kate Simko's She Said EP and Sami Koivikko's Sapphire 12".

Cina describes the collaboration as "perfect timing." "I met Sam in the early 2000's. He contacted me about some work I was doing." "Late last year, I was wanting to work on some personal-type work and it happened to be what direction Ghostly was going in. WeWorkForThem also was doing some stuff that needed the type of sound that Ghostly/Spectral is perfecting, seems like a perfect match for me."

Valenti agrees. "Collaborating with Mike was something we wanted to do for quite sometime, after seeing some of the projects he had been working on, it forced our hand."

The 12" sleeves represent both a neo-classical and abstract beauty and document a new era for the Ann Arbor based label. The 3 covers represent a new breed of Spectral talent including Kate Simko, Sami Koivikko and Cologne-based duo, Daso & Pawas. Ghostly will be offering a limited edition of prints of each cover on their online boutique The Ghostly Store as well as t-shirts by YouWorkForThem.


Ghostly has treated its artists, fans and collaborators like family since day one. Artists feel like they're working with rather than for the label, and fans feel involved in something special and personal rather than merely consuming a product. As far as cult brands go, Ghostly is fast becoming the Apple Computer or Volkswagen of record labels. Actually, I think Ghostly has taken lessons from cult brands such as those listed above, and blazed new trails where it comes to earning respect and loyalty from both producers and consumers. [Marketing guru Steve Wilhite - who coined the brilliant "Drivers Wanted" for VW and "Shift_" for Nissan could take notes.]

It can be very difficult finding people to work with who have just that right balance of talent, personal chemistry and motivation. Having conducted many interviews in my professional life, there are plenty of people who are highly skilled and organized at what they do, but you just can't imagine spending more than a few minutes with them before putting an ice pick through your temple. Likewise, there are some truly wonderful people in the world who turn out to be total flakes, or don't share the same motivations for making work. The right combination is of course different for everyone and every situation. [I once worked at a company who's primary motivation was making lots and lots of money. That's fine and all, but I'm very fortunate to now be somewhere that shares my primary motivation of making challenging, high quality art above all else. The funny thing is, we do pretty darn okay for ourselves with that.] Ghostly has done a wonderful job finding their perfect balance with an impressive artist, fan, and collaborator base that is beneficial and inspiring for everyone involved.

The best brands aren't for everyone, but they're just perfect for those who get it.

4 comments:

Allen said...

Interesting post Mike. I had no idea that Cina and Young were now doing stuff for Ghostly I knew both of them vaguely through dreamless.org back in the day.

Michael Doyle said...

Thanks, Allen. Yeah, the internets were different back then. I guess it's good that everyone is so busy with work now. It's nice to see worlds collide.

milosh said...

well said. I love you last quote, 'the best brands aren't for everyone, but they're just perfect for those who get it."

Words.

Milosh

MAD_ILL said...

thanx for the shoutout, mr. doyle! just completed a new score for a short film by one of young's protegees in bangkok.

MAD_ILL