Lots of things are puzzling about this new release, Ghost of Vroom 2, by the band Ghost of Vroom, which is led by Soul Coughing lead singer and solo pop writer Mike Doughty.
The first is that, as accords the Stereogum interview with Doughty, “this is our second release, though the first release hasn’t come out yet” — the result of a halt of the first release by someone Doughty with hilarious glibness just calls “the manager.” The second is that it’s, rather sadly, the result of a failed reunion with his former band on the part of Doughty — the interview also reports that he’d contacted the Soul Coughing members only to get back a “hot plate of crazy.”
The third is that, basically, all of these sounds, with the exception of Doughty’s half-singing, half-rapping vocals, are rendered electronically, by either sampler or stock bass sounds on Garage Band, making citing the “personnel” credits almost an exercise in complete futility. All we seem to know regarding the particularity of the actual individuals who did something on this album is that Andrew “Scrap” Livingston is one of them, someone referred to by QRO Magazine simply as a “live backing band man,” and that Mario Caldato Jr. apparently sat in on the sessions of the prior recording (the one that was apparently nixed by this John Lovitz type “the manager” guy).
The fourth would, of course, be that it’s coming out within the throes of the coronavirus shutdown, and in large part furnishes subject matter distinctly virus-y. Opener “1918” is an obvious nod to the great flu epidemic of exactly one century before our current predicament, an historical event which spawned similar public panic and mandated “social distancing,” et. al. What will trip you out about it, too, is that it SOUNDS like Soul Coughing music, really exactly. In one snippet of the Stereogum interview, Doughty makes the remark that “The Soul Coughing style was having a sampler on stage,” then indicating that said instrument provided the rhythmic basis of this particular project. To me, the bass on this cut and this album (which Doughty elocuted as the “upright bass” option on Garage Band) sounds like Stereolab, as does the exact riff, but those sampled drums are so infectious, spirited and quintessentially-SC as to graft out more than a significant vibe of the original, and what’s more, take some listeners back to some great music, in these desperate times.
“1918” sidles along with the steady, narcotic chorus of “One / Nine / One / Eight” in tandem with a dizzying bevy of noodley, vague guitar sounds, bleeding into the beautiful “Rona Pollona,” a sort of yin to its yang, in a sense. Slightly more melodic and psychedelic than “1918,” “Pollona” calls to mind Irresistible Bliss (Soul Coughing’s second album) to 1918’s Ruby Vroom (Soul Coughing’s first album), the latter having that beautiful penchant similar to songs like “Soft Serve” and “Soundtrack to Mary” of being hard-edged and rhythmic but also tending to a delicate chord progression and melodic interface that makes the music really beautiful, even hypnotic. Doughty’s lyrics gallop in with confidence: “Don’t touch the box / Don’t touch the shelf / Don’t touch the people / Don’t touch yourself / LYSOL…” in something closely courting the style of rap, hence rendering this music a sort of hip-hop answer to post-punk in that it produces bright, gorgeous chords to soundtrack a discursive tale of hopelessness or downright apocalyptic destruction.
Another thing Doughty hit on in the Stereogum interview (yes my check to the ‘gum is in the mail, for sure) was that, implicitly, he wanted to go against the grain in every way — warm instead of cold, out of tune instead of in tune, chaotic instead of ordered and clean instead of swathed in what he called “cold reverbs.” And this music, though mean, stark, funny and theoretically disorienting, is also supremely “warm” indeed — in fact it’s warm like Doughty’s excellent, Dave Matthews-produced solo album Haughty Melodic was, and more so than any Soul Coughing record. At nine minutes, it falls 11 short of the minimum length for consideration for Dolby Disaster’s year-end top 50, but I thought it would be a noteworthy thing to handle nonetheless, for its power as a throwback to the classic Soul Coughing music, and also within the hopes that he eventually compiles a whole LP with this stuff or maybe includes it on a career-spanning compilation utilizing his solo and SC stuff too. It seems like a pretty viable wish, at least, and plus in this digital age it’s so easy to just make your own such playlist, on which this Ghost of Vroom 2 material would be absolutely essential.