I think it’s safe to say the process of making music for an artist can be both cathartic and therapeutic. We have all heard the familiar stories of musicians pouring everything they had into their album and having it reflect where they may have been at that moment in their life. For Joseph Hitchcock aka Paper Anthem and his recent album By Ghosts this seems to be the case. Hitchcock was going through a turbulent time while writing but the feeling of hope, determination and optimism he invokes throughout his songs may be the medicine he needed.
One of my first thoughts when listening to By Ghosts was that is contained the same grandiose allure of a band like Coldplay. Some of the songs really soar. That being said, some of my favorite moments were some of the most subdued. Nonetheless, I’m glad Hitchcock didn’t go grandiose for each song because that experience can be quite exhausting.
The album opens with “Guardian Angel” which put piano and vocal at the focal center of the song. It bursts with exuberance and solace while Hitchcock sings, “Coming around, a guardian angel / Don't look down, I'm falling to you / Coming around, this guardian angel / Don't look down, don't look down.” The constant climax of “Guardian Angel” is balanced by the dynamic “Candle Dances.” “Candle Dances” is like a roller coaster ride with dips and crescendos. The song seems to be about eternal love in an almost cosmic way.
An undeniable highlight was “Cardboard Cove.” It is a single worthy song because of its instant accessibility and catchy melodies. The song feels a little lighter in a good way and I thought the combination of bells and piano is one of Hitchcock's finest moments. Instead of exploding into a chorus he does the opposite and it pays off big time. The transition when he sings, “I still have your note but I'm just sand” and then “In the end there will be nothing but hope for you In the end there will be nothing but the best for you” is one of the best moments on the album.
“Scales on Skin” contains exceptional lyrics and actually reminded me a bit of The Decemberists. He sings, “Long day in the fields / Killing snakes amongst the weeds / Scales on skin like diamond hearts / I'll find a way to open up.” “Rome” goes from sounding huge to atmospheric while “Pantheon” has some slick percussive elements. Hitchcock ends with “The Universe Is Expanding” which goes into post-rock territory similar to Explosions in the Sky.
By Ghosts is far from perfect but definitely contains a number of inspired moments. The songs are varied and diverse while not sounding too disparate. Overall, an enjoyable listen and easily recommended.
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