You can expect to see ongoing appearances by Ghostly International, the 12-year-old label with roots in Detroit that has since established firm outposts in California and New York, in these pages. (Pixels?) The reason is simple: Ghostly is a grand experiment in how to retain relevance as a label in the second decade of the 21st Century. But like any label, the proof in that exercise lies firmly in the sonic output, so while I’ll ramble a bit here, the best thing to do is to simply point to a lot of things to pipe into your headphones – particularly as Ghostly has been on a bit of a tear in the opening weeks of fall with plenty of free downloads and mixes to give you a free sample. (The first taste is free, natch.)
Ghostly is perhaps best known, traditionally, for its ties to Detroit and artist Matthew Dear (aka Audion), but contrary to proper belief, the founding role – and ongoing helmsmanship – belongs to Samuel Valenti IV. The label’s presence is now international, founded on slickly-produced tracks that seem to embody a certain zeitgeist. The recent release by mainstay Tycho is coated with a sonic equivalent of the golden patina that seems to resonate from the artist’s tinted photos and designs, emanating a warm, partially-nostalgic glow that nonetheless remains firmly digital and future-minded. Ditto Com Truise, whose modern-retro sound is now crossing Europe, or the previously-covered samplist Gold Panda.
It’s notable that Ghostly’s evolution now has been from narrowly-focused label – often experimental, as with its IDM-ish Spectral Sounds imprint, or techno-focused – to design and taste hub. Ghostly’s model for how to address the exploding access to global stuff now on the Web appears to be to cast itself as a curator, assembling stunning output by designers and design-geek goodies, and ensuring its content flows at a steady but comfortable rate through blogs, Facebook pages, and free online radio pages. While all metrics suggest that all-you-can-eat streaming services are devouring actual sales, Ghostly’s strategy could prove a bellwether: they plaster the free mix services and such, but also are developing a loyal following that consumes everything from vinyl to , all as they cultivate a subscription service that focuses on access to just their releases. (See Drip.fm, formerly the Ghostly Music Service, which in turn has a landing page that hints they may extend the same model to other labels.) Whereas just throwing your music to the winds of the cut-rate services threatens to destroy just the kind of boutique music Ghostly represents, the label suggests that careful curation could rise, not fall, in value in the wake of the cheap fire hose of sounds now available to consumers.
But that’s Ghostly. Let’s listen to some music. It’s especially worth mentioning here in the “hump day” of an autumn work week, as many turn to some of these Ghostly tracks, like the free Music for Ideas compilation, to gain inspiration for getting work done and things made. In particular, Lifehacker spotlighted Tycho in a recent feature. (See their Work Sounds series, and thoughts on whether music really can make you more productive, though I don’t wish to be glib about that on an actual music site.)
Here’s some material to watch and listen, to use as a backdrop to work or dance, or to simply let yourself drift away…
For starters, there’s the 8tracks compilation Ghostly made for itself earlier this month. With cover art by Ghostly design regular Michael Cina, it covers the gamut of recent releases, with appearances by Shigeto, Tycho, Matthew Dear, Com Truise, Jacaszek, Mux Mool, Gold Panda HTRK, plus remixes by Nicolas Jaar, Star Slinger, Teen Daze and King Midas Sound. (I can’t say enough good things about Nicolas Jaar; I’m still working on nailing down an interview. And kudos to 8tracks for being a service with a nicely-designed, clean interface that lends itself well to this sort of track compilation.)
As seen on drownedinsound.com, a good place to discover this sort of thing.
My favorite moment: the chilling, gorgeous Jacaszek track “Elegia,” which apart from its scintillating string and vocal timbres and pads, has a heart-tuggingly melancholy pulsing ostinato that moves the thing forward, before a surprising and satisfying twist in direction at the end. You’ll want to file it away for an icy day. Jacaszek is well worth listening to, generally, with richly-cinematic, Classically-inspired, electro-acoustically-skilled, moving music out of Poland. He’s newly-signed to Ghostly – check out his performance from Poland’s own, legendary Unsound Festival, in the video below:
For that aforementioned mix to boost your productivity, look to Ghostly’s “Music for Ideas” compilation, a free set of downloads celebrating the label’s appearance at a TEDx installment in hometown Detroit. It’s accompanied by an especially-gorgeous, organic Michael Cina explosion of ink and color, seen here. You get more Shigeto, Lusine, Tycho, Mux Mool, Dabrye, and company, but also the likes of Ben Benjamin, Osborne, Solvent:
As they describe it:
A 10 song experience of Ghostly’s artists, each with a unique mood. The Music for Ideas compilation is a joint effort between Ann Arbor-founded Ghostly International and TEDxUofM; it’s release coincides with TEDxUofM 2011: Encouraging Crazy Ideas, the second annual self-organized TED summit at the University of Michigan.
Music for Ideas is meant to awaken the creative flow, the tenet on which TEDxUofM 2011 is based.
If you like that free download, fill up your music collection at this page:
MP3.com – yes, there’s still an MP3.com – has a good snapshot of what Ghostly’s about, accompanied by three free downloads. (Ah, free downloads from MP3.com – wow, that takes me back.) Notable: art rock duo out of Melbourne HTRK is one of the downloads, and MP3.com wisely points to the electro-acoustic bent of many Ghostly releases, something often missing from more restrictive electronic labels.
Label of the Week: Ghostly International [MP3.com]
And more HTRK listening: (“Hate Rock,” not to be confused with “Hate Beak,” the heavy metal parrot I have failed to mention for far too long)
Shigeto has his own mix, as spotted on XLR8R.com, neatly timed to coincide with a tour of Russia and China. (I know we’ve got some Russian and Chinese readers, so do go say hi, and if one of you is handy with a camera, perhaps we can get you a press pass.)
Listen to Shigeto’s Mix for Streets of Beige [XLR8R.com, with RU and CN tour dates]
Tycho is on tour now through North America, alongside Swedish rock band Little Dragon, and delivers this tasty remix of that outfit (not to be confused with the experimental outfit Little Dragons, plural):
If somehow you’ve missed it, you can follow the exploits of Tycho – including his aesthetic-candy tastes in design and visuals – alongside contributors like Ghostly’s and Moodgadget’s Jakub Alexander, a good place to find goodies for your eyes and ears and play “where is Tycho now”:
And you can see inside Tycho’s studio in some gear pr0n on Wired:
Tycho Shows Off Old-School Synths Used to Craft Dive’s Ethereal Sounds [Wired]
…though, of course, you read CDM, so as the saying goes, there’s nothing there you haven’t seen before.
Gold Panda is featured in a beautifully-produced film of his live performance at a sold-out show at London’s Koko. We previously followed Gold Panda in 2010 – I might add, before this record really blew up – in an in-depth behind-the scenes feature here on CDM:
See also, from earlier this year:
Gold Panda on Sampling; Moby on Drum Machines
And if all this leaves you wanting to shake your butt around to Matthew Dear – I know there are times when that’s all I want to do – there’s a fantastic, house and techno mix from the label legend in Miami. The next time Berlin gets hit with a frozen ice fog that blots out the few hours of daylight, this is very much getting switched on, at least if I’m not in the mood for staying in messing about with long reverb tails and endless drones.
Ghostly also has a nice approach to YouTube, one worth emulating: in addition to the requisite music videos (I do want my music television), they use the service to tout upcoming releases.
If there’s a downside in any of this, it’s that Ghostly is so firmly established as curator and brand that it seems to me it falls on other venues for the kind of experimentation that might lead to future sounds, experimentation that may need to draw outside the lines of what makes Ghostly’s notion of taste so clear. And of course, I’d like to see a release that to me throws caution to the wind, even from Ghostly. At the same time, Ghostly can supply a model for upstart labels that have such aspirations, in the ways in which it crosses media and engages Web networks: there’s a roadmap here for how to thrive, let alone survive, that is not exclusively the domain of a name this well known. Look, learn, and steal.
If you have a label you’d like to see spotlighted, do get in touch. Big and small, you know they’re welcome here. (I have a few things to dig out of my inbox that look tantalizing and go in very different directions, so stay tuned.)
And, naturally, for more: