Lucky Ghost: “Network Stars”

Luck Ghost cover

LUCKY GHOST: Network Stars (by Seth Berkowitz, a.k.a. Aaron Hill)
2008/ CDBaby
11 tracks / 58:44 minutes

Lucky Ghost is the brainchild of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Seth Berkowitz, formerly of Aaron Hill & The Crimson Guard, Conquistador, and Skabba the Hut. Synthesizing influences from ’80′s pop, ’70′s prog and modern indie rock, Lucky Ghost emerges with a crisp sound, laden with hooks, melody, and strong arrangements.

Network Stars is Seth’s first full-length release, featuring home studio tracks recorded between 2005 and 2008. An album about reluctant love, crime-solving children, useless superheroes, gay spies, professional jealousy, and, of course, network stars. Although the opening line is “This is the sound of a woebegotten misanthrope,” every track is upbeat, with clever rhymes, fabulously balanced lyrics, and just enough melodic modulation to make each stanza sound instantly recognizable yet unique, all at once.

In my ears, this storytelling pop music, although solidly mainstream, has a strong alternative/progressive vibe. The music is simply arranged, always clean and transparent, in keeping with the homemade feel of the project. The austere nature of the arrangements brings heightened clarity to the unusual edges of the occasional dropped beat and oddly timed bridge. There is deceptive song-craft going on, making this album wonderful to listen to more than once. Rhythmic experimentation is organically employed, aiding the lyrics; the large palette of language adds depth to each story told, never drawing distracting attention to the authorship. The more I dug into each song, the more I appreciated what Seth was doing.

On my first time through the song set, I thought the tracks sounded like pristine demos. I concentrated on the fine songwriting, enjoying the song-craft, the sense of story. The strong writing is obvious from the get go. However, I wasn’t moved to get up and dance, hadn’t yet found the progressive drive or rock passion. Yet after a few more listens, I began to appreciate the sparse use of instrumentation, the subtle differences, the theatrical energy, and with each listen I loved the music more and more. When music gets better with each listen, you know it has something special to offer.

I wish the lyrics would have been included in the CD booklet. I know I was missing some great lines and wrote Seth to get a complete lyric sheets. They are indeed worth reading/knowing. I hope he posts them on his website. These are good short stories that are much easier to appreciate when the entire text is laid out on the page.

Check out Network Stars on CDBaby. Highly recommended.

LINKS:
Network Stars by Lucky Ghost on CDBaby
Aaron Hill’s Macjams Artist page
Aaron Hill’s GWComics page
Official Lucky Ghost website
• Previous EP: Face of the Astronaut EP by Aaron Hill & The Crimson Guard

TRACKS:

1 Misanthrope
2 Heart of Mine
3 Mystery Kids
4 Slumberland
5 Ways & Means
6 Ladies Club
7 The Future
8 The Kills That We’ve Made
9 Megaton
10 Heroes Have Their Own Parades
11 Battle of the Network Stars

Here is an outtake of my interview with the creator of Lucky Ghost:

Is that MIDI drumming?  If, please explain how you made it sound so real.

That is actually a set of Roland V-Drums that I bought on craigslist, recorded via simple line-in into a Garageband track.  A friend recently turned me on to a plugin that allows you to control MIDI-out with Garageband, but for Network Stars is was simply a matter of playing along to a click track until I got it right.

Is there an over-all concept you had for this album?

At the risk of sounding a bit over-confessional, I’ve got several friends who have really hit it big in their respective fields.  ‘Network Stars’ is a bit of a play on that, as well as a callback to a cheesy 80′s vibe (in the form of the old NBC show ‘Battle of the Network Stars’) that I love so much.  But overall it’s about coming to terms with yourself with regards to success and relationships as time marches on… especially if things aren’t progressing as quickly as you may have envisioned as a kid.

What gear did you use?

An eMac, Garageband 1.0, Roland V-Drums, a Fender Stratocaster, a Fender Jazz 5-String bass, and a MXL-990 microphone for vocals.

I just got a new laptop and am very excited to finally upgrade to a more current version of Garageband, and perhaps start playing around with Logic.  I should finally have some decent home studio monitors in time for the next album as well.

Who do you consider your music influences for this particular project?

Well, my fundamental influences always come down to Elvis Costello and Yes, for whatever reason.  They never get old to me.  But a lot of times I hear a song by a particular artist and like it so much, I basically set out to write something just like it, knowing that by the time my own grey matter makes its imprint it won’t sound much like the song I was shooting for at all.  It just sort of serves as a spark.  The first song, ‘Misanthrope’ for example, plays around with some instrumentations that I admired from The Strokes.  The opening of ‘Heart of Mine’ is very much a variation on Aimee Mann’s ‘Fifty Years After The Fair’ before veering off into its own territory.  ‘Slumberland’ has shades of Weezer.  Oh, and ‘The Future’ is the rock version of a short film score that I did which intentionally quoted from Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack and music from Nintendo games.  Can I get in trouble for saying all that?

Some songs just spring up out of nowhere, of course.  ‘Mystery Kids’ and ‘Heroes Have Their Own Parades’ especially seem to exist in their own unique space, with no one influence that I can put a finger on.

The lyrics of Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) are a big inspiration to me as well.  And I should mention that whenever I hear Level 42′s ‘Something About You’ I realize how much it influenced me as a kid… everything from the vocals, to the changes, even the guitar solo.

Did you play all instruments?

I did!  My father got me started on the drums long ago, and I learned to play bass when a band I was friends with in high school lost their bassist and opted to teach me instead of incorporate an outsider.  Geddy Lee is a great bass teacher!  And I can play just enough guitar to get myself in trouble.  Writing guitar solos comes quite naturally to me, but playing them is a real stop-and-start affair.

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