Album review: ‘A Circle of Stones’ EP by Ghostdog

PARTY ON, EMO STYLE: "A Circle of Stones' is the second EP from Asheville-based trio Ghostdog. And while the group calls itself an emo band, there's a lot more going on in Ghostdog's music than that label implies.

Yearning, melancholic, mid-tempo rock with a dreamy feel is merely one of the stocks-in-trade of Asheville-based Ghostdog. But it’s worth noting that the group playfully describes its music as “Wussy-boy emo pop.”

The band’s second EP, A Circle of Stones, opens with “Party On, Emma’s Grove.” Will Isaacson’s complex guitar figure and Adam Freshcorn’s knotty drum patterns seem to circle each other cautiously. Slashing, angular chording suggests that Ghostdog traffics in a gently melodic rethink of post-rock, with subtle jazz touches. It’s nearly three minutes before Isaacson’s gentle vocal enters the mix; at this point the song may remind some listeners of early 1970s, Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac.

“Abusing Time and How to Handle It” begins similarly, with a measured tempo and a plaintive, mournful vocal fronting a gentle jangling electric guitar. But no sooner than the listener settles in to that arrangement, Ghostdog shifts gears. “Abusing Time and How to Handle It” is transformed into a spirited and (by rock standards) relatively complex melody. Enthusiastic and precise drum fills heighten the energy level.

Less than a minute later, the arrangement changes again; this time it’s even more ethereal than the manner in which it began. Shimmering guitars provide a feathery aural bed upon which the nearly chanted vocals rest comfortably. There’s almost a shoegaze aesthetic to the song. This character is maintained for a few minutes, at which point everything fades slowly — very slowly — to quiet. In under seven minutes, Ghostdog has provided a tidy sampler of the group’s versatility, all in the context of a single song.

“I Don’t Wanna Go” further builds upon that foundation, with the title phrase serving as the song’s anchor. Once again, Ghostdog moves through more than one arrangement, delivering uptempo choruses that contrast nicely and effectively with the more downtempo verses. There’s a post-rock aesthetic in the choruses of “I Don’t Wanna Go,” but it’s leavened with a focus on melody. An alluring guitar solo is supported by Reid Parler’s sympathetic bass line and lively drumming. Ghostdog understands the mechanics of pop songcraft — verses, choruses, bridge — and wisely keeps its ambitious musical ideas within those parameters.

As “S’mores” opens, there’s a muted quality to the guitar that evokes the feel of a stereo speaker wrapped in a heavy blanket. Eventually, the muffled tone gives way to a brighter, more natural sound. Again, the interplay between Freshcorn’s drumming — as much a tonal element as a percussive foundation — and Isaacson’s intricately picked electric guitar is mesmerizing. The song is halfway over before the sorrowful vocal floats into the mix. Ghostdog’s now-standard approach of contrasting slow/fast, soft/hard musical textures is applied here as well, but the transition between the styles is more gradual.

A Circle of Stones concludes with “Puzzle Pieces.” Musically, it’s very much a piece with the EP’s other songs, but the group’s self-described emo character shines through a bit more obviously. Lyrics like “it’s so damn hard to let myself trust anyone at all” embody the teen (and early-twenties) angst that characterizes emo. But the caliber of musical arrangement and musicianship elevates Ghostdog well above other purveyors of that style.

Upcoming local dates for Ghostdog include a Saturday, May 26, set at the Odditorium and a Monday, June 18, show at Burger Bar.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.