- James Greenwood is one of Phantasy Sound's newer signings, but he's closely tied to two of the UK label's biggest stars: Erol Alkan helped him craft his debut album as Ghost Culture, and he collaborated with Daniel Avery on that producer's 2013 album, Drone Logic. Avery's textured throb and Alkan's crossover flair both resonate on Ghost Culture, channeled through Greenwood's reedy voice and synth-pop sensibilities. Every snare hit, writhing bassline and dose of reverb feels purposeful. That sheen makes the LP sound generically stylish in its less inspired moments. But with its effortless blend of familiar ideas—a little bit of post-punk, a dash of Depeche Mode, a hint of techno—Ghost Culture is sleek and modern in a way that's hard to dislike.
The three EPs leading up to the album each offered an instrumental track and a vocal cut. The instrumentals (like "Red Smoke," which stole the show on Erol Alkan's recent Fabriclive) were impressive and dynamic, while the bite-sized vocal tracks squashed those ideas into radio-ready chunks. Ghost Culture takes the latter approach, presenting a side of Greenwood that he hasn't totally mastered yet. Let's talk about the good parts first: the singles, "Mouth" and "Giudecca," still sound as smooth as they did last year, and "Glass" ups the ante with quirky percussion and a brighter vocal melody that recalls New Order. Greenwood deftly explores ballads too, bringing his voice down to a whisper over more thoughtful productions, particularly "Glaciers," with its warm hues of '60s psychedelia. "Arms," meanwhile, shows some fault lines starting to form, clumsily dumping a vocal on top of a rhythm section that sounds like it was stuck together with chewing gum.
The record's second half lets loose. "Lucky" ditches the hooks for jackhammer repetition, colouring its drab foundations with bright streaks of melody. "Answer" really hits pay dirt. It's the track that best meshes his synth-pop and dance floor styles, rinsing out a killer hook before jetting off into a closing section of vigorous arpeggios and hard-hitting woodblocks. More distinctive than "Arms" or the moody Crosstown Rebels vibes of "Giudecca," "Answer" shows Greenwood starting to wring the most out of his influences.
On the rest of Ghost Culture, though, he still sounds like a fledgling artist. It's not that Greenwood is amateurish (this is a very professional-sounding album), but rather that he's still finding his way around what could be a powerful synth-pop formula. Ghost Culture is a good record from an artist who is probably capable of a great one.
10. The Fog