Holy Ghost!, ‘Dynamics’ – Album Review
You get the sense people are ready for Holy Ghost! to happen. That goes for indie culture at large, the New York disco duo's cult following and the folks over at their label, DFA.
Group members Alex Frankel and Nick Milihiser are the only ones who seem to view their sophomore LP, ‘Dynamics,’ as business as usual -- which, it turns out, means 11 carefully constructed, ice-cold, zero-frills pop songs.
Holy Ghost!'s 2011 self-titled debut was more a collection of singles than it was a proper LP, but the format played to the pair's strengths. On the surface, the group looks like a meat-and-potatoes Italo-leaning disco throwback, and to a certain extent, they are. But the attention to detail in both the songwriting and production have helped the group stand out. Much like Ty Segall, Foxygen and DFA flagship act LCD Soundsystem, they’re able to distill sounds from the past down their barest and truest components and build whole records around that essence. The sound may be vintage, but the approach is completely modern.
Holy Ghost! was slow to catch on, and it wasn’t until the whole DFA camp threw their weight behind the duo on a 2011 cover of Ministry’s 'I Wanted to Tell Her' that they started to breach indie consciousness. On ‘Dynamics,’ contributions from the likes of Nancy Whang, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo and DFA head James Murphy speak to the group’s growing profile, but if anything, the new album finds Holy Ghost! more at ease and comfortable in their own skin than on their self-titled effort.
That said, Holy Ghost! push themselves, even if the sweat doesn’t show. For what ‘Dynamics’ lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in a more adventurous and subtle approach to songwriting and production. The sound of the duo’s debut was by no means disco minimalism, but every piece of every song seemed to have a place, as if the singular intent was pop transcendence. On ‘Dynamics,’ they're more willing to take their time and see where things go. The most obvious example is the eight-minute ‘Dumb Disco Ideas,’ which bounces from pop levity to long-distance space disco in short bursts before moving into its anthemic instrumental coda.
‘Dynamics' remains very much a pop record, however, and tracks like ‘Okay,’ ‘Dance a Little Closer’ and ‘It Must Be The Weather’ live and die by their earworm-y dance hooks. The latter two songs ride along smooth tide-break choruses and punchy disco rhythms. ‘Don’t Look Down’ incorporates some rave-y synths, letting a Robert Fripp-esque guitar line burn quietly in the background. There isn’t really a single world-stopping standout among the 11 tracks, and instead, Holy Ghost! play for consistency, even as they try for a more emotionally varied record on tracks like the beach-y ‘In the Red’ and more progressive ‘Cheap Shots.’
‘Dynamics’ doesn’t blow the doors off Holy Ghost!’s previous material, but it’s definitely a step forward. The duo have decided to refine and broaden the scope of what they’re good at rather than forge a new direction, and it’s resulted in an album that knows exactly what it wants to be. It might not sound like the highest praise, but considering Holy Ghost!’s inherent chops as songwriters and producers, ‘Dynamics’ delivers some of the most enjoyable dance pop of the year.