Title Royale: Ghosts

What kind of music do you groove to in the fall? For the past few years we’ve had an evolving “October” playlist, where all sorts of spooky songs gather. Several reference the fantastical beings of the season, such as the Demons explored in my very first title bout. Turns out there are other converging titles on that mix, including the several “Ghosts” that follow. Let me know which one you think wins the fall prize.

The Head and the Heart (2011)

Playfully ominous low piano notes introduce this song, then we hear escapades of past acquaintances until the group bridge uplifts to the chorus. “All my friends are talkin’ about leavin’/ But all my friends are sittin’ in their graves” goes the catchy refrain. The graves here seem to be the houses or apartments that lead to stagnation. And even though it’s satisfying to leave home, the wandering turns people into shades of who they were, as they struggle to become something new. The plural of the title works well with the whole band wildly contributing to the song, including piano fluorishes, yelps, and plenty of backup vocals. “One day we’ll all be ghosts/ Trippin’ around someone else’s home,” the song claims, with other boppy musings on being lost and found. The group here might be apparitions, but they seem content with their ghostiness.

Communist Daughter (2011)

The next tune kicks off with a line about late December, not October. “I remember ghosts” floats over a driving rhythm and dual vocals, until things relax a bit with, “Let me know when they get to heaven.” There is quite a bit of urgency in this one; the song tries to relax but something haunts it. That snow, that cold reality. The concept is similar to the previous song, but leans toward an even more classic use of “ghosts” as directly describing friends who have passed away. The wonderful backups by Molly Moore add a lot of character to this song, as well as the outro sentiment, “I’m not old but I’m not young.” It’s a blessing and a curse: if you’re old you’re closer to becoming a ghost, if you’re young you’ve “got a lot of years to forget ’em.” The memory stings.

James Vincent McMorrow (2012)

Let’s go from anxious haunted houses to quiet campfire stories for these next ghostly tunes. An entry on one of the Twilight soundtracks, this slow acoustic fingerpicking number opens up to the singular vocals of Irish songwriter James Vincent McMorrow. Sometimes his voice plays more like an instrument and the lyrics are obscured until the chorus comes in: “We are ghosts, we are ghosts amongst these hills.” More layers of string and voice get added but the pace stays smooth into the second chorus. Here some backup ghosts join, crowding in from the ether. The mood evokes elves slowly aging and fading in a mist-filled Middle Earth, or the wandering woman from “Long Black Veil.” There is an acceptance in the song, not just sadness. The ending is fitting, with haunting echoes closing things out.

Trampled By Turtles (2014)

McMorrow hands his guitar across the fire to the boys in Trampled By Turtles, who have written one with a remarkably similar pace and angle. Again, the chorus is the strong point, with backup ahhhhs… and more hills! In between the lyrics we get straightforward strumming and a violin, or a fiddle or two. “There are ghosts in the forest, and they’re calling to you/ Oh, please just don’t bore us, whatever you do.” Perhaps the ghosts of the past are just looking to be entertained like everyone else. “I’m constantly shaking with the echoes of love” is the closing line, lovely yet vague in the TBT style. (Weirdly, the song mentions “the breakers at low tide.” McMorrow also has a line about the waterside in his song about ghosts in the hills. Spooky.) This is another song that seems to make peace with the ghosts at hand.

Winner: What have we learned here? That for some reason recent songs about ghosts are all written by indie-folk bands? Or that you must choose between the poppy angsty route or the melancholic fireside path? Nope, it’s that no matter what, if your song is “Ghosts” with an “s” you’d better have backup vocals. All four are winners! How good are those harmonies? Okay, to get down to it, I like the upbeat songs best of this batch, and the trophy goes to The Head and the Heart for a seriously cool song that has plenty of references to both ghosts and real life experiences. Ghosts are pretty great metaphors after all, and well explored here. Nice job all around though. You get some Halloween candy (just one piece each!).

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