Thought Forms - Ghost Mountain

An intensely insular world of cavernous sounds, punctuated by forays into generic post-rock.

Rating:

Bristol three-piece Thought Forms return with the sophomore effort to their mainly instrumental 2009 debut, with the new addition of vocals/lyrics to their existing setup and the interesting, if perplexing, inclusion of scuzzy, post-rock numbers nestled between their previously established sound of droning, experimental shoegaze.

And generally, the experimental dominates. Opener ‘Landing’, appropriately, is what a crash-land descent into a chilling lunar wasteland must feel like – the dark, doomy bass, wordless screams, and thick, chugging riffs would be an apt soundtrack to your own Going Mad In Space Moment. But it’s not all doom for long and it phases out into ‘Ghost Mountain You and Me’, its sunnier counterpart of warm, gentle strumming laid against the cold, disembodied vocals of guitarist and frontwoman Charlie Romijn.

The not-so-sunny ‘Sans Soleil’ (if you know your French) is the most conventionally structured song on here, with the band taking a stab at an alt-rock aesthetic, and comes off like a muted cross between Sonic Youth and early Smashing Pumpkins. Similarly ‘Only Hollow’ – with a titular nod towards mbv’s ‘Only Shallow’ – is a blast of 90s garage band rock of scruffy, lo-fi production. Its brisk energy immediately following on from the sprawling ‘Burn Me Clean’ in the tracklisting however is an unfortunate misstep.

The undeniable focal point of ‘Ghost Mountain’, the thirteen-minute opus is bleak and spacey, lent a mournful dimension by the use of a hulusi (a Chinese reed instrument); nonetheless, it contains an element of menace, and sits at the centre of the album like a malevolent spider. It isn’t long before it’s back to the post-rock, though ‘Song For Junko’ is unremarkable until the shimmering delay ups a few gears to squeals of reverb-heavy guitar, and meaty poundage, courtesy of drummer Guy Metcalfe.

Closer ‘O’, meant to represent a ‘circle of negativity’ according to the band, is an intense five minutes of claustrophobic unease, filled with detached, atonal moaning and a creepy buzzing effect – as if a swarm of mechanical locusts have set up house in the amps – before a brief rocky interlude shakes things up, and then it’s return to the creepy buzz the album fades out on.

Thought Forms have created a follow-up that’s an intensely insular world of cavernous sounds, punctuated by forays into generic post-rock - and the overall effect is a disjointed one. For one thing, other bands have done the latter before and done it better, and for another the vocal interplay between Romijn and Deej Dhariwal (guitarist/frontman), as well as the vocal quality overall, only works against a layered soundscape of subtlety and atmosphere. Stripped of that context and placed into an ordinary one of bland garage rock, the discordant moaning quickly shows up its limitations and starts to grate, and it becomes clear why the band started out as an instrumental outifit in the first place.

Not for everyone – the presence of (nearly) quarter-of-an-hour psychedelic epics ensures they’re not shoe-ins for the Radio 1 A-list any time soon – ‘Ghost Mountain’ is nevertheless an immersive experience of haunting, sparse beauty that’s only occasionally compromised by the band’s explorations into less exciting territory.

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