Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: DM Stith - Heavy Ghost (* * * * *)

When you think 'graphic designer,' 'musician' is not usually a word you would immediately associate with the term, but that's exactly how DM Stith (first name, David) got his start in the music biz. While working in Brooklyn, Stith befriended Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and eventually ended up providing some design and recording help for her album Bring Me The Workhorse. In fact, Stith's creative journey centered much more around visual art and writing for the majority of his life, and though he is part of a very musically-inclined family and a gifted musician himself, it was only after writing some music around the time of Worden's recordings that his fascination with music returned and his debut album, Heavy Ghost, began to take shape. After Worden discovered his musical ability, she encouraged David to share his music with Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stith was invited (and coaxed) to write and record a full album after previewing just two songs, but I bet it would only have take one.

It's hard to imagine how anybody could have possibly kept such musical genius under wraps for so long. Stith's debut is a wonderful mix of the grandiosity of Sufjan Stevens with the intimacy of bands like Grizzly Bear and Shearwater, though he creates a sound all his own. The record's first single, "Pity Dance," is a good representation of his style, with his delicate voice somehow working its way through subtle, yet complex arrangements of guitar, strings, piano and layers of ethereal backing vocals. It's intriguing and inspiring all at once, and the album continually impresses with highlights like the eerie "Pigs" and the orchestral epic "Fire of Birds." With a little help from his friends (Stevens and Worden both contribute), Stith gets just about everything right here, with not a single weak moments among Ghost's twelve tracks and something to love at every turn. "Morning Glory Cloud" keeps things more simple, with warm acoustic guitar providing most of the background to Stith's captivating poetry before shifting into a noisy, haunting piano solo, and opener "Isaac's Song," (one of many Biblical/religious references) crashes menacingly and haphazardly around in a brief, but riveting narrative.

Even Stith's more abstract moments are much more than just interesting distractions. "Spirit Parade" is a fascinating mix of nonsense lyrics and messy instruments swirling around in a claustrophobic climax of noise, and "GMS" is a beautiful piano piece packed with more emotion than some artists get out of an entire album. "Wig" closes the record with a hazy bit of blurred violin and faint vocals that provides a beautiful end to a debut that is easily the most impressive I've heard this year. As shy as Stith seems to be, he confidently tackles a variety of song structures and arrangements without ever overreaching or seeming pretentious. His lyrics, which often center around his personal struggles with religious and ethical beliefs, are gripping and poignant, adding to the fragility of his music. Put simply, this guy is operating on another level.

Unpredictable, gorgeous, and endlessly enjoyable, Heavy Ghost is nothing short of a musical masterpiece and what we should hope is the first of many from DM Stith. If my ranting hasn't convinved you, check out his MySpace to hear some of my favorites from the album or his homepage to hear demos, singles, and more.