Chicago’s Drag City Records may be the last record label that I give a damn about. Their rate of uncovering talent is unmatched, and you never know: the next Will Oldham or Pavement or Bill Calahan may be the latest addition to the label’s expansive, eclectic roster. I may not approve of Drag City’s decision to release, say, The Transit Rider, but I’ll die for their right to do so (or something to that effect).
Anyway, Japan’s Ghost is one of the label’s more curious discoveries—not because the band is so odd, but because they’re so not. Sure, these glorified hippies may shift lineups and tweak genres from time to time, but In Stormy Nights is just one more hour-long psychedelia and freak-folk mish-mash that will only impress listeners who think that String Cheese Incident invented free improvisation. I suppose something had to unite the Banaroo and Pitchfork crowds, and if it wasn’t going to be Ryan Adams or Matisyahu, than Ghost is a good candidate; the band is “experimental” but also boasts the added guilty pleasure of vocalist Masaki Batoh’s “engrish” pronunciations.
The bulk of Stormy Nights is dedicated to a nearly half-hour-long collage of live clips dubbed “Hemicyclic Anthelion.” The snippets are the sort of excerpts you would expect from the type of band that would even bother to make a collage of 30 minutes of their live improves in the first place: droning keyboards and cellos, guitar feedback and pedal punching, go-nowhere tribal drumming, and the occasional atonal marimba solo. Yes, piecing together “Anthelion” from hours of what I can only assume were extremely unpleasant stage recordings must have taken a long time, and it’s kinda neat that it all sounds like it’s a single composition. But not unlike Lou Reed’s similarly produced Metal Machine Music, it still doesn’t sound at all like a song, so it’s impossible to be moved to anything other than boredom or grouchiness. Elsewhere, the band reverts to grave monotony with endlessly cyclical drum riffs at the center of “Water Door Yellow Gate,” “Gareki No Toshi,” and the Cromagnon cover “Caledonia,” here stripped of the original’s frenetic squall and left with just a rhythmic stumbling that’s about as graceful as an elephant tapping its foot along to “Taking Care Of Business.”
Though Ghost is often revered for their originality, they’re not breaking or rewriting any rules here—fittingly, the album’s only joy is the comfortably generic folk tune “Grisaille,” which closes In Stormy Nights. Maybe pastiche is inevitable, even in the Japanese avant garde scene (the track “Umo,” from the last OOIOO album, sounded suspiciously like Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey”), but can’t it at least be a little more fun?