Ghostly Beard - Inward (Self-released, 2018)
Patrick Talbot, the elusive talent behind the Canadian artist Ghostly Beard, has spent the last five years releasing a variety of what he calls “emotive prog-pop.” Hopping between different palettes of sound without fear, the artist says he takes comfort in the anonymity of his musical pseudonym. Almost as a form of peaceful protest in the face of the modern world’s predominately individualistic culture, he seeks to divorce any ego from the creative process. Inward, his latest LP, surveys singer/songwriter pop, blues rock, and psychedelic folk.
If you’re looking to skip right to the juiciest bits, you need not look any further than the first track. “How Does It Feel?” is a slow-paced ode to drifting in limbo, separated from any semblance of purpose. The vocals slide smoothly over warm chords as a xylophone replies to the melody in waves. Pressure builds against the wound and a slide guitar enters to sweeten the pain. Somehow, miraculously, the conventionality is utterly satiating.
However, the album’s arrangements begin to take a bit of a lackluster turn with “The Love in Your Eyes” and “Gone” sporting less than memorable instrumentals and lyrics. The fourth track off the album, “Autumn Blues,” feels like it would be right at home across a barroom floor. But rather than a live performance, the meandering electric blues feels robbed of its buzz by nature of its clinical studio-quality production.
On to “Night Train” and the mood shifts to an oddly calm blend of Donovan and CSNY. Notes off a guitar scintillate between the vibrato of a keyboard. The vocals are anachronistic and gawky. And yet the apprehensive unfurling of the chorus rests on a unique harmony that hasn’t been used since the days of Harry Nilsson and The Point. It’s quintessentially 60s-era psychedelia wrapping you up in a silk blanket under the stars. I almost have to pinch myself to remember the album’s release date.
The first hints of originality come through in “It Doesn’t Matter,” a dreamy prog rock tune with hues of folk and jazz. While the disjunctive melody does arguably more harm than good, it’s the cozy fog formed between the keys, percussion, guitar, and xylophone that seem to make it worth the listen. As Ghostly Beard echoes a refrain and a lead guitar soars, a rich nostalgia is laid bare, reminding you of the felt carpeting lining your best friend’s basement. Remember all the fun you guys had down there? Yeah, me too.
Save for the fact that “9 to 5 (Barely Alive)” sounds dangerously identical to several of Pink Floyd’s masterful space rock ballads, it’s nonetheless a gorgeously adrift dosage of guitar soloing. The same goes for “Let It Rain.” Ghostly Beard has really mastered the sound here.
What makes Inward worth your time is its moments of cohesion, where the vision behind the sound begins trailblazing—exploring rhythm and melody in new ways. Sifting through some failed attempts—as there always are with every healthy artistic practice—we find Ghostly Beard contributes to his field with a subtle, albeit sometimes tedious, beauty.
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