Review- “Horse Chief! War Thief!”- Ghostkeeper

horse chief war thiefreviewed by Michael Thomas

With each full-length release, Ghostkeeper become bolder and bolder with what they want their music to sound like. The band was just starting to figure out their sound with their first album, and they truly acted on their potential with 2010’s excellent self-titled sophomore album.

The subversively-titled Horse Chief! War Thief! takes the band’s already unique sound to unexpected new levels. Their sound has always been a strong take on roots music, playing with unconventional guitar tunings and wholly unexpected shifts in melody along with vocals from Shane Ghostkeeper that blur the line between singing and spoken-word poetry. This album sees Ian Jarvis of Chairs taking over as bass player, the addition of the use of synthesizers, and the influence of other genres like drone and metal.

Just as with the previous album, Horse Chief! War Thief! will keep listeners on their toes. Ordinarily, when a band suddenly shifts from uptempo to downtempo rhythms, it’s a case of the band killing the energy, but in the case of Ghostkeeper it’s just another way the band forces the listener to reassess how they think music can be arranged.

Right off the bat, Ghostkeeper move full-on into their zone with the title track opening up the album. The rootsy beginning to the song gives way more sinister guitars and a wash of synths, along with the exceedingly memorable line “Who’s that comin’/Barack Obama’s runnin’!”

“The Indians” will really mess with listeners, switching back and forth between blistering attacks of guitar and slow interludes seemingly at random. “Walking a Hundred” features a couple of lines that could only have come from Shane Ghostkeeper: “Woke up, headache, don’t know where my smokes is/I’m sorry baby, I’ll be home before Christmas” and later “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me/I was only involved like a Molotov cocktail or two.”

First single “Luella” really hits on all of the band’s strengths, namely the patchwork song composition and the vocal interplay between Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle. And it’s hard to ignore the jarring line in “Turn Up the Heat”: “Who’s the best Indian on the CBC?”

The second half of the album sees Ghostkeeper being much more experimental. “Gospel Slinger” features the first known use of sampling by Ghostkeeper, and parts of this song feature little more than a synthesizer beat backing Shane Ghostkeeper’s vocals. Then there’s the devastating line: “Now the church brought troops to shoot them up and put a bad medicine in the blankets,” followed by an explosions of drums, guitars and shouts.

“The Children” gets even more unsettling, filled with a cacophony of instruments and indistinguishable chants. And “Til the Days That We are Old” starts off with Shane Ghostkeeper’s vocals imitating that of a ghost. The song moves onto a fittingly ethereal end.

One can only hope that Ghostkeeper continue to release albums as bold as these last couple of albums have been. There’s rarely anything more thrilling in music than an album that completely unsettles the listener.

Horse Chief! War Thief! will be available tomorrow, March 19, on Saved by Vinyl, but you can stream the entire album via Exclaim!

Top Tracks: “Horse Chief! War Thief!”; “Luella”; “Gospel Slinger”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) +*swoop*

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