It is a testament to just how boundary-pushing and bizarre the Brooklyn trio Celestial Shore is that their new album, Enter Ghost, has already been spun as their accessible album by most of the critics who’ve reviewed it. “Enter Ghost” untangles the knottier aspects of the band’s sound,” writes Pitchfork’s Stuart Berman. ACRN’s Bailey Kretz calls the record, “more focused and straightforward.” I see where these writers are coming from given the all-out math rock absurdity of the band’s debut, 10x. Still, taking the easy journalistic angle of these-guys-made-a-record-that’s-a-little-more-polished-and-a little-less-weird-than-their-last-record feels like it would do a disservice to the genre-bending, heartfelt thirty-three minutes that is Enter Ghost.
The math rock experimentation with time signatures and dissonant chord structures that Celestial Shore employed all over the place on their first album is still here but it’s more focused. The quirky drum fills and angular riffs aren’t the main attraction anymore. The band’s idiosyncrasies have become emotionally affecting tools rather than demonstrations of their technical skill.
Take one of the album’s highlights, “Trouble,” in which they move from floating, Real Estate-inspired minimal psych-pop to a transcendent, chaotic burst of improvised energy and right back again. The final track, “Goodbye,” can’t decide if it wants to be a whimsical folk rag or a psychedelic doo wop single, and I’m not the least bit bothered by its indecision. On Enter Ghost, Celestial Shore have become shapeshifters, a trio that can convincingly move from twee pop to free jazz pandemonium to ‘90s slacker rock without losing their unique identity in the process.
So what is the glue that holds this album together then? For one, there are the lilting ‘60s psych-pop vocals of bassist Greg Albert and guitarist Sam Owens. The two split songwriting duties on the album, but unlike a band like Wolf Parade, in which songs are easily recognized as either Spencer Krug or Dan Boeckner originals, Celestial Shore maintain the same sense of surfy gloom and restless anxiety regardless of who’s getting the songwriting credit.
Ultimately, the thing that preserves the continuity through all of the band’s spastic genre blurring is a feeling of precise disarray. Enter Ghost is partly an exercise in controlled demolition. On song after song we watch the band build a stable, catchy garage-pop song only to tear it apart halfway through and rebuild it from the ground up.