I’m not sure that I believe in ghosts. I’m intrigued by them, and even visited a “haunted house” or two. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a guilty pleasure in Travel Channel `Most Haunted’ specials. I just have trouble in believing that someone’s soul can be trapped on earth, and that people are left to toil in limbo due to some `unfinished business,’ as it were. Yet, the idea that Ben Cooper (a.k.a. Radical Face) presents on his album Ghost is a curiously captivating one. Per its accompanying press release, “What if houses had memories? What if, when we lived in them, our stories bled into the walls and became a part of the house?” With these questions floating around in Cooper’s head as he was writing this album in his native Jacksonville, FL, the ensuing musical venture became a gorgeously haunting structure of its own.
The apparitions visiting Ghost aren’t the malicious, ghoulish kind, but rather some sympathetic, yet barely there specters. Radical Face’s arrangements are ghostly in and of themselves, gentle strums of acoustic guitar and tape hiss adorning Cooper’s ornate bedroom lap-pop. The ambient xylophone hums opening “The Strangest Thing” shine through like an otherworldly light, just before the drums come crashing in and a dramatic wave of synth washes over it all, Cooper singing “I can’t feel my hands or feet and I’m too scared to sleep,” with a legitimately creepy vibe. Similarly, creaking sounds, like those of a figure walking across antique floorboards, pair with an atmospheric haze in “Along the Road,” which remains a spare piano ballad until a sequence of programmed drums sets a sprightlier pace.
There’s even a song on the album called “Haunted,” if the general theme weren’t quite as clear, and its wispy sound is just that. As pleasant and warm as many of these gentle spirits are, Cooper often fares better when he allows them to run free and go Beetlejuice on our asses. “Winter is Coming” is more exotic and bouncy in its melody, even resembling “Paint It Black,” slightly, and with more of an indie folk jones. “Welcome Home” is the best song on the album, bringing together an energetic rhythm with Cooper’s grand Grizzly Bear-like arrangement. His wordless chorus vocals are stunning, and become a cathartic release as he sings “all my nightmares escape my head/ bolt the door, please don’t let them in.”
With a song like the epic, whistling and marching “Glory,” it’s easy to distract oneself from any supposed ghost stories, as the track is so joyful in its grand melodies. And whistling rarely lends itself to a good spook. This is less of an exorcism than it is a happy co-existence with whatever unseen spirits inhabit Cooper’s world. It is not so much about brain-eating zombies or bleeding walls as it is the psychological idea of ghosts, and how memories can create an aura of their own. Even when Cooper’s music is at its most restrained and barely there, one can strongly feel its delicate presence.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.