A couple months ago, Ghost Shirt stopped posting a new single each week, abandoning the year-long quest they launched in January. I ribbed them for it. They did not think it was funny.
That's probably because instead of trying to salvage a project that had become a chore, they decided to make a downright smashing second album. Written, recorded and released within about two months, "Daniel" is a strong argument that Ghost Shirt works best when they work fast AND focused, pouring their energy into a unified set of songs.
I found debut album "Domestique" an awkward marriage between the band's elegant chamber pop side and its bouncy rock 'n' roll side, so I advised them to play up the more sentimental elements that initially drew me to songs like "Waitress" and "History of the Radio". They've done something better, discovering a surer synthesis of their influences that has yielded one of my most satisfying album experiences this year.
Branden Barnett's songwriting has risen several notches here, no doubt the product of working so frequently in close quarters with his corps of Sam Kim, Ryan Haye and David Murphy. Even deep cuts that at first seem like blatant rips/homages like "Sister" (Spoon) and "23" (Guided By Voices) bloom into something unique by the time they conclude. "Lightning and Snakes" liberally slides between messy-haired rock power and carefully combed pop precision. "Devils" takes their grandiose early songs on a hold-onto-your-hat joyride. This music is punchy and physical — sometimes downright violent — but also smart and sophisticated. And unlike some of what they released earlier this year, it never sounds forced. I couldn't wait to go back for a second listen.
Click to Bandcamp to pay what you want for a download of "Daniel" or stream it for free.