Hey everyone! RobBarracuda here, and it’s time to talk about the newe—oh right. The Singles Program is over for the year. Well that sucks. Where am I gonna find interesting free music to talk about now? … … I got it!
In addition to the yearly Singles compilations and individual artist albums put out by Williams Street Records, Adult Swim’s record label also frequently puts out various themed compilation albums. Albums like these normally consist of songs that viewers recognize from the block’s signature black-and-white text bumpers, and they always serve as a great window into the music that helps form a significant part of Adult Swim’s identity. Since it’s October, I figured it would be a good time to take a look at an appropriate compilation for the month: Ghostly Swim!
Released in April of 2008, Ghostly Swim is a collaborative effort between Williams Street Records and the Michigan-based label Ghostly International. Founded in 1998 by Samuel Valenti IV (who also DJ’s under the alias SpaceGhost, because of course), the label’s output chiefly consists of music that (as the name implies) carries a haunting ghostly sound and music that also veers into spacey ambient territory as well. So given the spooky haunting occasion that is the month of October, I decided to look at the entire Ghostly Swim compilation and talk about all the songs featured. If you want the compilation for yourself, you can download it for free from Adult Swim’s website. With all of that out of the way, let’s get started.
1. Michna – “Triple Chrome Dipped”
Michna is a producer from Brooklyn who signed with Ghostly International in 2007. His music tends to embody a wide range of influences and ideas, but generally speaking he tends to rely on very spacy ambient vibes, usually either soothing or trippy, occasionally bordering on what sounds like old school hip-hop beats. “Triple Chrome Dipped” is the opening track from his debut album Magic Monday. The song definitely veers more on the uneasy side of things, relying on constant voice samples belting out a melody that doesn’t seem to be quite clear, and there’s some deep-sounding synthy bass and higher-pitched synths as well. Occasionally, there’s an odd voice sample that sounds like trying to rev up an old car engine that just isn’t working, and it’s quite attention-getting. It’s a good way to open the compilation, bringing unusual spacey vibes, with quite a lot going on to warrant multiple listens.
2. Dabrye – “Temper”
Dabrye is one of the aliases used by producer Tadd Mullinix, and he bears some the greatest significance out of all of Ghostly International’s artists, as his first release Winking Makes A Face (put out under his own name) was also the first album ever put out by the label. His style carries influences of glitch and hip-hop, with the latter’s influence being most prevalent on the track “Temper”. The drumbeat present is classic hip-hop through and through, being complimented by what sounds like low-pitched horn blasts the whole time. Various bleeps, glitches, record scratches, and samples of rappers are all thrown into the mix. The beat may sound subdued and small, but the prison break sirens at the beginning and the mixing of the rapper samples give the song a very large feel to it, like you’re being watched and surveyed by some kind of unknown force. The song puts out the vibe of what sounds like a normal day in some crime-ridden part of a futuristic city, and it’s pretty damn cool in that regard.
3. The Chap – “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley”
The Chap (who, as you might’ve guessed from the name, are based out of London) only ever released one album on Ghostly International: Mega Brekfast in 2008, which is where we get the song “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley”. Their style is a mixture of indie and electronic, drawing most explicitly on the Krautrock style of electronic music popularized by German music legends Kraftwerk. You can hear these influences in the subdued vocals used in the verses, as well as the high tweeting echoing synths used throughout. Once the first chorus kicks in, the beat switches up to incorporate guitars and non-synthetic drumming. The second time around, the chorus builds and gets louder, with the guitars getting layered more and more on top of each other. The lyrics narrate some weird minimal tale about the titular names featured, and who knows what they’re supposed to mean? I just know that this is a good song with some strong varied-but-consistent songwriting throughout.
4. Dark Party – “Active”
Dark Party usually tends to write music that is futuristic-sounding and infectiously dance-able at the same time. The song “Active” doesn’t really have much of a dance vibe to it compared to the rest of their material. Instead, the song leans on a more unsettling vibe and feeling throughout. The experience of listening to “Active” feels like being alone inside of either a small spacecraft or space station, with no one to keep you company. You just sit around and listening to the beeps and blips of the computers around you, as you stare out the windows and see the cosmos: the stars, galaxies, planets, moons etc. all passing by as you journey on through space. Maybe every now and then something different catches your eye, like maybe seeing a desolate colony or civilization on some foreign planet miles away from home and you decide to check it out, once again all alone pondering what could’ve been here. As I said, it’s kind of an unnerving song, but in the best possible way.
5. Tycho – “Cascade”
Tycho is an artist who is known for writing a lot of beautiful ambient electronic music, often heavily incorporating samples of nature sounds and human voices into the mix as well. “Cascade” may be the most well-known song on the compilation, as it played during a somewhat significant moment in Cartoon Network’s history: during the final 30 seconds of the final broadcast of Toonami’s first run on the network. “Cascade” is an appropriately moody-yet-uplifting song for such an event, as you feel like tearing up while listening, but at the same time you feel a weird sense of joy when experiencing the song. The woman’s voice echoing “What’s here? But first, they have to find them” puts the listener into a sort-of hypnotic state as it constantly plays through the track, almost like the only voice to keep you company as you explore a barren planet. You feel simultaneously alone and comforted as this happens. The foreignness of the vibe is offset a bit in the second half when an acoustic guitar kicks in for the rest of the song. “Cascade” is a very emotional song that evokes memories of that first end of Toonami, feelings of both pleasure and sadness. Hopefully Toonami never has to leave us again.
6. JDSY – “All Shapes”
JDSY (real name: Joey Sims) is an artist who writes a lot of spacey ambient music that includes a distinct vocal element, choosing to incorporate his own voice into much of his music, usually produced with a very echoing reverbing style to them. There’s not really much to say about “All Shapes”. It’s a fairly short track, just shy of two minutes long, and it has his singing mixed with some low-pitched synth and synthetic drumming. The song is admittingly not all that good: it’s pretty basic and short to a fault. The song is basically over about halfway through, and it just loops itself again seemingly just to pad out the runtime. Kind of a dud track, but not really terrible by any means.
7. Deastro – “Light Powered”
Deastro writes a lot of emotionally-driven synthpop and indie rock, also delving into more experimental electronic songs from time to time. “Light Powered”, which appeared on his 2008 release Keepers, is sort of an outlier given Deastro’s general style. The song starts with a hard-hitting synthetic drumbeat and then immediately adds on some thick bass-like synths, immediately calling to mind 80’s new wave artists like Depeche Mode and Dead or Alive. More synths and bleeps are added on top, giving the song as a whole a significantly more upbeat and happy feel than what you’d normally find in his catalogue. It’s a catchy and fun song that’s worth listening to if you need to put yourself in a good mood.
8. Matthew Dear – “R+S”
“R+S” is a song that starts and is carried by a very subdued glitch beat. While a consistent beat is heard and maintained, most of the elements that make up the beat sound like they’re being rapidly muted and unmuted, being turned off and on again and trying to break through. There’s also a tonally and melodically dissonant yelping that frequently comes out in the mix and sounds like it gets immediately cut off after each second of moaning. There isn’t much of a melody to be found except in Matthew’s vocals, which bear a strong resemblance to music legend David Bowie, and the vocals are accompanied by swelling synths. If you’re into complex glitchy music, then this song will fill that need for you.
9. FLYamSAM – “The Offbeat”
FLYamSAM is a collaborative effort between well-known experimental producer/Adult Swim staple Flying Lotus and hip-hop producer Samiyam, known for working with rappers like Joey Bada$$ and Earl Sweatshirt. “The Offbeat” is a song that I think shows off both of their sounds and styles rather well and how they sound when mixed together. The shaky clattering percussion is in line with Samiyam’s production style, while the trippy spacey vibes and sirens laid overtop are definitely the work of FlyLo. One thing to note is that the beat has a weird kind of stuttering feeling to it, where every now and then the “snare” hits sound like they’re a little behind on the beat. It’s only a little noticeable, and it doesn’t distract from the vibe at all, making this a great song for just sitting back and zoning out.
10. Cepia – “Ithaca”
Cepia (Huntley Miller) is an artist whose music tends to feel very visual-heavy. He writes and produces his songs in a way that feels like they’re meant to evoke clear imagery in your mind as you listen. “Ithaca” starts off with a dark mechanical beat before kicking in with a pleasing bleep melody that adds an infectious groove to the track. At about a minute and a half in, the song switches up the beat by swapping out the previous melody and replacing it with what sounds like reverb-heavy guitar work like you would find in the shoegaze genre, and the melody does eventually return. Listening to the song feels like falling asleep in a space station and having nostalgic memories of pleasant times in life. There’s not much else to say other than “Ithica” makes for a solid and distinctive kind of dance song.
And that’s enough Ghostly Swim talk for now. Stay tuned for part 2 of this review, where I’ll cover the second half of tracks from the compilation.
Update: read part 2 of the review here.
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