Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Hurricane Bells - Tonight is the Ghost (* * * 1/2)

So New York alt-rockers Longwave aren't exactly superstars in either the mainstream or indie community, but they're well-known and respected enough that you'd think if singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Schiltz had decided to make a solo album, we'd have heard something about it. However, Schiltz created his new record almost completely in secret, writing, playing, recording and producing the entire project by himself before he let anyone know about it. In fact, there's a good chance you first heard his new moniker, Hurricane Bells, on the new Twilight movie soundtrack, which features a non-album track from Schiltz that should do wonders for getting his project off the ground. His solo debut, Tonight is the Ghost, has been recently released digitally and with almost no warning, possibly in order to capture the hype surrounding the soundtrack, but the record actually holds up very well on its own merit both as a DIY project and as an addition to the Longwave catalog, especially if you're a fan of the band in the first place.

In his primary gig, Schiltz's guitar usually spoke louder than his voice, with monstrous riffs and stellar solos packed into most every tune. But while he's a gifted shredder, and seemingly can't help himself on occasion here, Tonight is the Ghost has a more organic, almost folk-like edge to it than most of Longwave's previous material. Even when he takes some time to let loose and throw out a solo or turn up the distortion, everything sounds relatively grounded and simplified, which adds to the music's appeal. Mostly, Schiltz uses his signature instrument (often acoustic) to add texture and variety without relying on all his old tricks, though you're likely to recognize his electrifying handiwork on cuts like "The Winters in New York." As if to prove that this will not be business as usual, though, Schiltz kicks things off with a bit of dreamy pop on "This Year," which starts small and slowly grows into a rush of percussion and guitar before subsiding. Despite it's grandiosity, the track is refreshingly intimate and a little rough, as are other highlights like the spacey ballad "Tonight I'm Going to be Like a Shooting Star" or the driven yet gentle "Freezing Rain." It's this unrefined and personal quality that makes the album work as it does. Schiltz isn't really reinventing himself, he's just aiming for "epic" less often - and it suits him.

Tonight is the Ghost probably isn't strong enough to get Longwave fans comfortable with the idea that this could be a more permanent project, but despite its slight unevenness, the album is more interesting than just as a showcase for Schiltz's considerable musical talent (though it's certainly convincing in that way). The stylistic variance and raw, emotive nature of the music makes this an engaging album, one that was obviously labored over and carefully executed, but not over-thought or overdone, an accomplishment which seems altogether rare these days. Also, given the lack of foreknowledge we had about it, Tonight is the Ghost feels like a welcome surprise for Longwave fans and the uninitiated alike.

This Year (MP3)