John Ghost ‘Airships Are Organisms’ LP/CD (Sdban Ultra) 4/5

Who is John Ghost, you ask?
John Ghost is six Belgian musicians, led by guitarist/composer Jo De Geest. ‘Airships Are Organisms’ is their 2nd album following the 2016 debut, ‘For A Year They Slept’. The rest of the band is made up of Rob Banken (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute), Wim Segers (vibraphone, marimba, percussion), Karel Cuelenaere (piano, Fender Rhodes, synth), Lieven Van Pee (bass) and Elias Devoldere (drums, percussion). They are “often described as a symbiosis between the sounds of Steve Reich, John Hollenbeck, Nils Frahm and Jaga Jazzist”. Wow.
There you are. Reader meet John. John meet the reader *nods*. Introductions over. So, the music then?

13-minute opener, ‘Deconstructing Hymns’, ushers in the minimal with an atmospheric scene-swelling synth wash that leads into a pulsing marimba repeated motif, while the odd sparkling percussive star and celestial sonic offer a momentary, calming, universal perspective. It shifts gear after approx 6 and a half minutes as Devoldere picks up a gorgeous syncopation-energised rhythm that the band happily riff on and bounce off, including some slightly-distorted guitar(!) from De Geest. It ends with a playful, angular, percussive dance; Banken floats alto feelings and thoughts as vocal swells bring the drama.

The title track is a breathy, optimistic jaunt. It’s self-propelled, wind-assisted with a foot lightly on the brakes. Devoldere is the metronome as bursts of sax, Rhodes and others work to incrementally elevate. Iterations of the proggy, the jazzy and the fusiony are input; all Egg-ing each other on.

‘Disfunctional Rabbits’ is a two-parter with the wonderfully pragmatic titles of ‘Disfunctional Rabbits: The Disfunction’ and ‘Disfunctional Rabbits: The Rabbits’. ‘The Disfunction’ is tenderly heady; a gliding soundscape that effortlessly flows downhill with alto, idiophone and keys charting its direction and a jaunty prog-riff to top and tail it. ‘The Rabbits’ throbs hard and threatens to groove hard too but, wisely, just manages to hold back. Its wisdom results in a gratifying, reserved menace; a thrilling tension which never relents as layers of sound incrementally add to it. Bound power.

‘The Fallen Colony’ is initially broken and wide open as Devoldere prods and Segers and Cuelenaere create some cosmic enchantment. It then heads off into impish prog time signature land, feeling the groovey, fusion of John Squire’s ‘Lucky Seven’ before halting and stuttering to a vibes-lush patterned end. ‘Time//Traveler’ extends its preceding track with some introductory interstellar exploration before a fat beat is laid down and John Ghost do their thing they do so well; a thing of short bursts and motifs by each musician (over an anchored rhythm) that don’t ever become “a thing” at the time, but are undeniably related musically, themically and emotionally to ensure a continued growth, an accretion, cumulatively achieving one hell of “a thing”.

Some overt drone in the final track, ‘Drones For a Sunken Mothership’, reminding us of how cinematic this album is at times. It’s another big swelling, builder of a track with grand, soaring strings and a driving, thriving pedal that Devoldere energetically underlines with some seriously busy kit action. Its an aptly heroic, atmospheric, pulsating end to this stunning album.

“So, the music then?” we asked earlier. John Ghost’s music is exploratory, intellectual and both minimal & maximal when the mood takes it. It is friendly, contemporary, idiosyncratic and elevated by its wide range of musical influence/styles (prog, contemporary classical, jazz, post-rock, drone). It wears all of its serious musical weight incredibly lightly; never getting clogged down in self-importance, histrionics or humour-free earnestness. John Ghost’s music is, well, kinda wow.

Ian Ward