Ghost Shirt vs. the Kids (and the Pop Hook)
The kids and I spent our Thursday night venturing out to the Scarlet and Gray Café of all places to witness a duo of bands a lot of message board trolls in Columbus have recently been cawing incessantly about. Before rushing judgment and slogging said bands off as just another cycle of safe, treehouse fodder, friend-rock, in my old age, I decided to give them both a legitimate chance, experience what they have to offer, then decide. I also decided in my old age to go see a couple bands that didn’t enroll a member who once lived with Chris Lutzko – go figure? Actually the Scarlet and Gray Café was a suitable alternative to the dive-bar fungus that regularly rots my brain, still this is a college dive-bar, and it stinks in that place. Saw at least two Jagermeister polos. And had to deal with bro-hawk leering over our billiards game. All just to see Ghost Shirt and Karate Coyote – two of the worst monikers in the pantheon of Columbus music.
Why Ghost Shirt? I’ve been intrigued since said trolls have extolled the group as some saviors of pop music in Columbus and the quotes of lead singer, Branden Barnett, being tired of the “noisy nothingness” that passes as music in this town. To further twist the knife, right before the group went on stage I found another Columbus glossy ad-mag, 614 (which makes the alive! look like the Economist), in which Barnett goes on to harangue an entire sub-culture of Columbus musicians as if it’s his job, and as if he’s got a posse to back him up, and as if there’s no such thing as pop music in our town anymore.
Barnett’s quotes from the 614:
“I don’t want to be confrontational, because a lot of my friends are in those bands – I think you need both,” he said of local acts that have made some noise by…making noise. “But, it’s very under-represented and almost shameful in Columbus to be poppy. I think it’s completely ridiculous. I think you can write a really good pop song and dress it up in interesting clothes without being pretentious about it.”
From the Columbus Alive:
“I just get so tired of Columbus being about the new movement of noisy nothingness.”
He who cast the first stone…. Is this a publicity stunt, as your songwriting Mr. Barnett and, ahem, “arrangements”, didn’t leave much of a mark? Who said it was shameful to write pop in Columbus – in my book the Sun was just as “pop” as the Feelers. Just because you place a cute little Asian violin player over top of your Replacements-derivative bar-rock doesn’t make you Brian Fucking Wilson Jr. Apologies to Samantha Kim, as she was the only fireball on a stage full of limp wrists and bad ideas, the only ounce of joy I could squeeze from this turgid display. Pop implies that you have hooks – its noon on the day after and I can’t remember a single melody, save the semi-excellent “Alexandra,” but that seemed cribbed directly from the Arcade Fire songbook. You can dress up a pop song in “interesting clothes” and if there’s no hook, there’s no hope.
Ghost Shirt’s front is not putting on a front, melting their hearts for rock and roll, and that’s as pretentious as the pretension Barnett accuses the city’s more popular bands of blinding the public with. Have you heard a Psychedelic Horseshit album, a Times New Viking album? Like it or not, it’s all pop, some of the catchiest records made in the history of Columbus music are being made right down the street, in a basement, a living room, and it’s now become your agenda to tear down that enthusiasm with an overwrought, over-long, over-emotional (fake emotion), set of post-Shatters monotony. Go ride your scooter dude. You’ll get your Off-Ramp masturbatory loco slot, so cool off coconut.
As for Karate Coyote, they aren’t wunderkinds or anything of the sort, their spritely movement and collegiate look wasn’t my thing, but at least they aren’t guilty of knowing their faults. They seemed to be genuinely growing, genuinely inventing in whatever early 20-something sphere in which they write their songs. Ironic in not knowing they aren’t ironic, they exist for the joy of live performance and invited every friend in their crew to join in. The lead guitarist worships Alex Lifeson apparently; the guy has some interesting chops. The lead guy who glues it all together has a gift for quirk. The two girls who both appeared to have rolled out of bed that night have chemistry, irresistible harmony, and a perfect sense of how two female voices should interact in the live setting. Like I said, they’re still finding their feet, but jeezy can they write a pop song. “Move Yourself” and that one they always play on CD101 (the song that dragged me there in the first place) are infectious as they come, with a few jagged edges. I’m not sure what this band wants to be, and for right now that’s fine, they can juggle Yeah Yeah Yeahs sophistication, with twee sensibilities of multi-instrumental psych-units like Broken Social Scene, and even slightly prog-metal elements that don’t bother me one bit if it’s coming from a pop craftsman like the guy from Coheed and Cambria. I’m going to see them again. I love the youth. Mr. Barnett, this is pop sir.