City of Elms sees Ghosts becoming more corporeal

 Rural, electric
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 26, 2013

MULTIPLE VERSIONS Rural Ghosts release new recordings of past tracks, joining a growing trend
as music recording and distribution get cheaper.

Seattle’s Minus the Bear this month put out Acoustics II, the follow-up to the first time, five years ago, they took their electrified, indie, digitized rock and made it all wood and strings. They’re among an increasing number of bands releasing multiple versions of the same songs, whether moving from a kind of public demo to something more polished or simply changing up the instrumentation and arrangement completely. As recording and distribution get cheaper, it only makes sense, and it can give a fan a thrill to hear a favorite song live and breathe anew. Maybe it infuses a song with new life.

We saw it recently with Jeff Beam’s Loudspeaker Wallpaper, a live-band application to songs that had been constructed track by track previously. The trend returns with the debut full-length by Rural Ghosts, City of Elms, which delivers new takes on two songs off the Rural Ghosts EP that introduced the band last year, along with seven new tracks.

It’s the opposite direction from Minus the Bear’s, taking on the more-common form of singer-songwriter takes being filled out. Rural Ghosts EP was rustic and acoustic, quiet and contemplative, where getting excited meant some very insistent acoustic guitar strumming and some sixteenth notes. Often, it was just frontman Erik Neilson and his guitar. And that was alright, actually. Moody and unassuming, it’s an engaging collection of songs and you can see why he got some Bon Iver/Sufjan references.

On the new effort, “Shards” and “Rural Ghosts” get an electrified, full-band treatment, with the most notable addition of Devon Colella’s cello, which is active and present throughout City of Elms. In fact, Rural Ghosts become fairly loud on this record, which may come as a surprise. “Tenant” and “Astronaut’s Lament” have a grunge to them, like the Singles soundtrack as written in the woods of Maine instead of the outskirts of Seattle.

The cello is so active on “Eyes” you might be reminded of the Bay State’s use of Evan James’s viola (he, of course, reminded people of Sean Mackin, Yellowcards violinist). But Rural Ghosts don’t have that kind of high-energy emo-pop in them. Perhaps unfortunately. There are times when I wanted them to really let go, plug their songs into a few more watts of emotional energy. If you’re going to vamp it up, vamp it up.

“I was out of line in a number of ways,” Neilson admits in “Shards,” but it’s like he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back.

Plus, I’ll admit to being distracted by the cello always being heavy in the right channel, like if you just turned your head far enough you’d see it out of the corner of your eye — both in the headphones and the car. With a semi-rare rock instrument in the mix, I’d err toward blurring it and making it less noticeable, perhaps adding in an organ or violin or something similar in the high end to take the harmonic load off.

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