2018 has in my opinion been a slower starter than the Pokémon Regigigas (a reference absolutely nobody will get) in terms of decent music dropping, with records of real quality releasing sporadically at best. Maybe it’s just because of how packed full of goodness 2017 was that I ended up being a bit spoilt. Then, seemingly in response to my ever growing yearning for new music to get into, rolling in along with the heat-wave currently ravaging the UK, came a slew of excellent records, All Saints’ Testament and Deaf Havana’s Rituals to name a few.
But it’s from across the pond that potentially one of my favourite records of the year so far has emerged from.
Los Angeles’ United Ghosts are the band in question, and in many ways are a repeat offender. In 2014 they released their E.P Dear Electric Sun which incidentally was one of the first records I ever reviewed for this site, but also came at a time when I was starting to really get into synth-rock. LA seemed to have a factory line set up for bands of this style as 2014 had more synth-rock than you could shake a rhythm stick at.
The E.P was a great listen but from then on the United Ghosts recording journey seemed to end there. However, on August 24th the band are set to finally release their eagerly anticipated follow up Saturn Days and it is absolutely worth the wait.
Comprised of joint vocalists and guitarists Axel Ray and Sha Sabi, United Ghosts have clearly made it their mission to add more genres to their game with this record as from first listen, Saturn Days demonstrates a shift towards psychedelica and dreampop, striking a balance between serene calm and dizzying walls of noise that few bands are capable of pulling off.
Opener “Waves” shows elements of New Order, with Ray and Sabi sharing vocals over an electro-pop beat, carried along by a trance-inducing guitar riff.
Many bands fall into the trap of trying to fill gaps in sound with unnecessary noise, but United Ghosts know exactly when to show their hand. The mind-altering electronica continues with “All You Sad Boys” with the only difference coming in the form of the guitars taking a more prominent role. Imagine Kasabian circa 2014.
One of the first things that crossed my mind was how little this sounds like a ‘traditional’ LA record. This is partly explained by the band member’s upbringings, with Ray and Sabi spending time in London and New York respectively.
Indeed, there still remain elements of relaxed vibes and good times that only LA music can provide, but the overall feel of Saturn Days suggests a sound closer to European electronica and especially krautrock.
“Crash” despite its onomatopoeic title, begins as quite a laid back affair. Ray and Sabi trade vocals as the warm fuzz of a guitar hums along. The track gives the feeling of floating in space, completely weightless but with the constant threat of some kind of impact lurking. It’s both parts haunting and calming, an odd combination.
Personal favourite “Can’t Feel The Rain” throws back to 90’s Britpop, which surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place on the record. It is testament to just how many genres United Ghosts experiment with that even a curveball track of sorts feels right at home. Such is the eclecticism of Saturn Days and musical nous of the band.
Instrumental album closer “Star Song” feels like it could go on forever and I imagine United Ghosts wanted it to, with only the contemporary restraints of a traditional track length restraining them to just under four and a half minutes.
I’ll go on record and say that Saturn Days pushes a lot of my buttons. For a record to initially come across as quite whimsical and accommodating, United Ghosts still manage to instill elements of unease among the tracks. There are portions of the record that even now I am unsure as to whether they are conveying happy or sad emotions. But you can argue that it takes a certain level of maturity and respect for your listens to not just paint out your track’s intentions so abstractly. You really have to delve to find the epicentre of this record, with certain tracks demonstrating Da Vinci Code levels of secrecy. None of this subtracted from the record’s quality though and in many ways it becomes a sort of adventure.
With the touring season upon us, Saturn Days has all the key components to please many fans around the world, whatever their preferred style. United Ghosts have delivered something special that really needs to be explored by as many people as possible.
Freelance writer still stuck in the 90’s.
Favourite albums; Young Americans, Hours, Out From The Vein, In Utero.