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“DD Review: Dead Ghosts – Automatic Changer.”


Score: 9/10

I can’t remember how but somehow probably four or five years ago (it might have been from reading the L.A. Record, likely the raddest online music journal out there) I got to following this Burger Records imprint out of Orange County, which always, whether or not I actually like the music, seems to typically offer at least a solid storyline. It’s a label with a distinct STYLE, which in short could be branded “surf rock,” and so along with embodying a geographically authentic wrinkle in the industry in addition takes indie rock back to its roots, as in standing in professional reflection of the grunge-leaning Sub Pop [1] and the fleeting, melodic pop of Matador. In other words, the business strategy is obvious of trying to target an audience tinged with a certain qualitative listening predilection.

And as showy and ditzy as they can sometimes be (or quintessentially “California,” in other words), and as persnickety and smug I personally am as a cut-rate tastemaker, they do from time to time hit their stride and foster what holds as some pretty accommodating pop-punk, as is certainly the case with Dead Ghosts new album, out as of April 24. Dead Ghosts hail from Vancouver, call an Anaheim label their meal ticket and are proud parents of an album that was mixed in Nashville (eh that geographical authenticity was a nice idea for a brief paragraph there). Over four albums, from 2010, the band has worn hats of both “hardcore” and “pop-punk,” both of which I think can ably be bastardized into the applicable “surf-rock” style for their seemingly incessant habit of letting one single, watery guitar riff achieve prominence in the mix, usually pulling rank at that over Bryan Nicols’ muffled vocals.

Album opener “Freak” lays the sonic groundwork dutifully with ample distortion pedal pestering a stock pop-punk groove but it’s the attention to detail with things like the organ-drenched, sans-percussion intro to “Drugstore Supplies” that really perk my ears up about this band. Indeed, a 10-year career in pop-punk starting in 2010 sounds about as auspicious as a new typewriter manufacturing plant, but these guys seem to have a preternatural knack for keeping things fresh. They balance sound with subject matter in a way that shirks the notion of having a “shtick” and just when you think you might have them figured out they can turn on a dime and lay down a rocking jam that might get you daydreaming back to R.E.M. or Cheap Trick. Kudos go as well to drummer Mikey Wilkinson, who subtly but consistently seeps into the mix with craft and vigor, bashing out polymorphous and glove-tight beats as well as a toothy fill here and there, just to keep things loose. On “Swiping Hubcaps” I hear what I’d like to say glibly that I detect as a Halcyon Digest-era Deerhunter influence which in turn further grounds this project in its own shoes, in a sense. That is, even if indie rock is so snickered-at and reduced to an afterthought these days, there are still bands out there voicing stoutly that such an underdog stature was really its natural habitat all along.

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[1] Mind you I’m obviously referring to Sub Pop’s early days, before it became a sort of juggernaut and branched out into wilting arena pop and whatnot.

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