(ghost): A Vast and Decaying Appearance

To Destroy A City: SUNLESS

n5MD begins 2015 on a very strong note with releases by (ghost) and To Destroy A City. At the risk of sounding reductive, one could argue that both acts draw upon established genres—IDM for (ghost) and post-rock for To Destroy A City—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the two reinvigorate said genres on their respective releases.

Calling To Destroy A City's SUNLESS inspired is clearly an understatement. Furthermore, the sheer power and intensity captured on the Chicago-based outfit's sophomore full-length lays to waste any urge one might have to constrain it by the application of a hoary genre label such as post-rock. Put simply, the blaze stoked by Andrew Welch (drums, synths, programming), Jeff Anderson (guitar, keyboards), and Michael Marshall (guitar) on the hour-long collection renders half-hearted attempts at labeling irrelevant. Four years have passed since the group's self-titled album (a remix set called Rebuild followed a year later), and the trio's sound has crystallized into something incredibly refined.

From the opening piece “The Messenger” until the ninth “Visionaries,” the group moves elegantly from one mood to another, effecting a gradual ascent to an explosive peak during one passage and decompressing for a soothing ambient episode in another. Transitions between such contrasting episodes never feel awkward but instead organic, and the change from a high-volume throwdown such as “Stand Before Me” to the more contemplative moodpiece “Escape/Return” is executed in a way that feels natural. The plaintive guitar melodies of “Last Contact” chime with such uplifting fervour and grace they could make Hammock envious, while “Daylight Station” exudes a reverential character that likewise suggests comparisons between To Destroy A City and Hammock aren't off-the-mark. And while synthesizers, piano, acoustic drums, programmed beats, and electric guitars are the primary elements, it's the searing guitar playing that perhaps most defines the To Destroy A City sound. When those soaring six-strings bring “Last Contact” to its transcendent climax, to cite one instance, the effect is so glorious that for a brief moment it feels as if nothing else matters.

Preceded by his 2013 n5MD debut album Departure, A Vast and Decaying Appearance is the second (ghost) collection from Brian Froh. A self-admitted fan of the Merck label and artists like Proem and Boards of Canada, the Denver, Colorado hometown boy largely crafted the fifty-minute collection alone, though additional sounds were contributed by Zach Neilan, Connor Waitt, and Jacob Porter. Based on the album-associated information available, it would appear that Froh prefers to let his music speak for itself, and we're happy to let it do so.

The steamrolling title cut is powered by a high-velocity beat thrust that justifies the IDM label, at least insofar as something so Merck-like could be characterized as such; “Transmit” similarly derives its considerable momentum from a flickering pulse that's more than a bit reminiscent of something the defunct Miami imprint might have released. Froh repeatedly shows himself to be a deft hand at conjuring sparkling set-pieces that juggle rambunctious beats and catchy melodies (e.g., “4blend,” “Vessel”), whilst not overloading the tracks with so much detail they threaten to collapse.

Yet while he slots his music into the IDM category, the new album's material extends sufficiently beyond it that it perhaps makes sense to label A Vast and Decaying Appearance electronica and leave it at that. The beatless interlude “In Repair” certainly argues that (ghost) is as much about ambient soundscaping as IDM, while the album standout “Finding Elas” swings with an incandescent, guitar-inflected fire that's as much post-rock swoon as electronica. Genre considerations aside, the release is a polished and engaging affair that argues positively in support of Froh as a composer and sound designer.

March 2015