By Allyson Bills
One of the most wonderful aspects of being a music lover is when members of your favorite bands jam together, aka “the super-group.” New York-based End of Love is the latest super-group to make waves in the music industry because they conglomerate musical powers of Big Star, Sonic Youth and Wilco. End of Love’s origins trace to a fateful meeting in 2013 between drummer Jody Stephens (Big Star) and bassist Irwin Menken (Sonic Youth) while they were touring for different bands in Europe. This very meeting led to forming End of Love nearly two years later with guitarist Jay Deegan, resulting in an Americana band with a touch of rock.
These three principal members went on to record their current debut album, Ghosts On The Radio, in Memphis with Abe Seifferth (Phonograph), Mike Jorgenson (Wilco) and Jason Stirrett (Wilco). In addition to these producers, End of Love also recruited Nels Cline (guitarist of Wilco), Lee Ranaldo (guitarist of Sonic Youth), Skylar Gudasz (vocalist for Big Star Third), Djano Haskins (vocalist for Old Ceremony), Karlie Bruce (vocalist for Escort) and Elisa Peimer (New York-based singer-songwriter). Talk about an abundance of star power! However, not even the members’ body of work in their respective (other) bands could save anyone from the disaster that is Ghosts On The Radio.
The cringe-worthiness of the nine-track Ghosts On The Radio begins with “Falling Hard,” a track that has the rock edge of Veruca Salt with a country twist. The vocals are very beautiful and flow well with the general sound of the song. However, what is problematic with “Falling Hard” is that the song’s composition is very haste. The chorus begins two lines into the song, and there is a random instrumental part in the middle after the line “You send me // You make me up end me” that doesn’t further elevate the song. It sounds like “Falling Hard” was recorded in one take, and not really honed its possible full potential.
In “Take This Heart,” a twangy mid-tempo track with an emphasis on the slide guitars, the vocalists attempt to channel their inner Neko Case. “Take This Heart” is one of the highlights on this record, despite attempting to emulate Case (vocally), because of the tempo changes that provides variety to this alt-country tune. There is a build-up of the song at the end which makes it interesting, and further hope that listening to Ghosts on the Radio is worth my precious time.
My hopes for Ghosts on the Radio were short-lived when it came to “Fade Away,” a track with slide guitars that sounded almost synth-like in the introduction. This is a weird touch with this Americana tune that cut right into the first verse in the twenty-eight second mark. Again, the gigantic emulating Neko Case’s vocals continue on “Fade Away.” If I wanted to listen to Case, I would listen to one of her albums, not End of Love’s. While listening to “Fade Away,” it’s obvious that lyrical make-up isn’t the focal point in general, which is disappointing given the member’s extensive musical experience. It was particularly painful to listen to the lyrics of “I made all my mistakes without you // Sure, that makes you feel small // Ooh, but mama said you...you never made it all.” I felt like I was listening to a mainstream country record. As the chorus on “Fade Away” says, “When will these memories fade away?” Much like this record.
Shades of Uncle Tupelo are evident with the sharp guitar sounds on “100 Years New.” To this song’s credit, the hooks are catchy as hell; I even had this song stuck in my head more times than not while working on this review. The “Ghosts on the radio” chorus gets me every time. Despite my somewhat love for this song, the vocals are rushed. It would have a longer instrumental introduction before breaking into the chorus, which is why it falls short of its full potential. With that being said, “100 Years New” is one of the more favorable tracks off Ghosts on the Radio.
“Who Do You See” provides a ray of hope in midst’s of dud tracks on Ghosts on the Radio. This is a dark, brooding tune with a heavy rhythm section with the poppy sensibilities of The New Pornographers. Both the lyrical and instrumental chemistry is spot-on on “Who Do You See.” Even the lyrics are thorough and articulate: “Am I rich enough to buy a little time // To get to know you well // To get to know your demons.” “Who Do You See” is the song that End of Love was meant to create. I wish End of Love would have let the other songs on the rest of Ghosts on the Radio flourish like they did on “Who Do You See.”
Again, my hopes for a “complete” record were dashed on “Scream Out Loud,” a twangy acoustic track with those slide guitars that we come to know and love. Despite the vocals sounding smooth as butter, the sound is very stagnant. Granted there are some sweet guitar solos throughout “Scream Out Loud;” however, I would have liked to hear a buildup of the instruments towards the end of the song, because it would have provided that extra “oomph” after the chorus.
Both “Color Of My Eyes” and “Let It Go” have that alt-country sound that has made Wilco famous. It’s a given considering that members of Wilco contributed to the making of Ghosts on the Radio. With that being said, there is nothing memorable about either of these tracks. “Color Of My Eyes” has a strange tempo change in the 1:40 mark that unfortunately doesn’t enhance the song afterward. What is even more unfortunate about this track is how near the end of the song, the “word” is not pronounced completely. It’s like End of Love didn’t really know what to do with the track’s lyrics. With the later, “Let It Go,” a jammer of sorts, has strange metaphors for love throughout the track: “Cop creeped for miles // Stoned strangers rush everywhere running in and out // How do they dare search for their love?” Not the way I would search for love, but to each their own.
The culmination of Ghosts on the Radio is “Beautiful New,” one of the few highlights off this painful album. This track kind of has a psych-beginning with a strong intro, and there are actually shades on Sonic Youth sprinkled throughout the song. Like “Who Do You See,” “Beautiful New” is another one of those songs that End of Love was meant to write. It’s a very sultry number with hardcore breakdowns and guitar solos that actually adds texture to the song. Even the lyrics are dramatic: “Can I leave my soul right here // I need you to gently take it inside // And sing to me in my dreams // And remind me in times of need.” “Beautiful New” is refreshing in an album full of lackluster songs. Unfortunately, it’s at the end of album; a little too late.
In general, Ghosts on the Radio would have been more suitable released as an EP, instead of a full-length album. If this was the case, End of Love would have been able to highlight and hone their strongest tracks off this album. Unfortunately, we were given this hot mess of nine tracks with “too many cooks in the kitchen.” This is disappointing considering all the talented musicians who contributed to End of Love’s effort. I really did want to enjoy Ghosts on the Radio, but it wasn’t meant to be.