Soundtracks For The Blind: Burning Ghosts // Reclamation

Revolution and resistance—these aren’t so much calls for change anymore as much as they are some of 2017’s trendiest buzzwords. Let’s face it: things aren’t particularly great right now in the world, and anyone with an internet connection can tell you that. Lately, people have taken to trying to make change by some pretty desperate (and, in some cases, just petty and lazy) means, on both sides of the political spectrum. This attitude seems to have integrated itself perfectly into the music of 2017, with some sort of Anti-Trump song/album/VA compilation/what-have-you releasing at the drop of a hat, and the Twitter accounts of artists essentially exploding in anger and frustration. But not all music needs to be bleeding with dogma and hate—sometimes we can just have good music with a great message, like this album here, that you are free to take and interpret as you please, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum.

At the beginning of this year I covered a band called Burning Ghosts, a sort of free jazz/rock hybrid who expressed their want for change in an instrumental fashion. Their debut was chaotic and noisy but at the same time a harbinger of hope, with trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom’s piercing tone breaking through guitarist Jake Vossler’s most riotous noise-making techniques. I noted in that article that “if I had known about this band earlier, I can almost guarantee that this would be on my top ten of 2016,” and I still stand by that. Musically, Burning Ghosts was a much-needed voice to the experimental music scene—their loudness was matched by the delicate control and virtuosity they put towards their music, and the addition of trumpet to the lineup offered slightly different sonic variations to enjoy. And, to my surprise/luck/excitement, Burning Ghosts is releasing their sophomore album Reclamation this month on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

What initially knocked me off my feet about this band was their self-titled debut’s opener, “Anthem”—a noise rock tornado with Rosenboom crooning a powerful, elegiac melody over the entire track. The rest of the album, while excellent, was made all the more better with that opening, as if it were the cry of “CHARGE!” that the world at large was looking for. With Reclamation, I was hoping for a similar opening, but I didn’t quite get what I wanted—the opener “FTOF” was instead replete with Rosenboom bringing these “talking” sorts of trumpet phrasing, a bit like the track “spacerobot [dance]” from one of his other projects, Dr. MiNT. It’s a solid track, but not exactly something that grabs you by the lapels; “FTOF” operates on a different level—a deeper level, that can still command attention, but only if you’re ready for it. That’s the thing about Reclamation—while I believe that it exists in the same musical space as Burning Ghosts (i.e. an insane-as-fuck free jazz/noise rock freakout), the effect the band is aiming for is entirely different, hence this slight (but noticeable) change. Reclamation has no shortage of rocking, noisy and, at most points, incredibly mosh-worthy moments, but it’s meant as a different rallying call to the people—mostly, one that you have to truly listen for.

On the level of songwriting, the band has made a few noticeable changes. The debut was much more improvised; here, we see Burning Ghosts take on more of a compositional tone to their music. Don’t fret, however—the lush, chaotic noise that made Burning Ghosts such a great album exists in spades here, but it’s more streamlined, and features some new sonic explorations. The quiet, brooding atmosphere that started “Betrayal” was a moment that caught me by surprise—with the way Aaron McLendon and Richard Giddens (drums and bass, respectively) interwove these nice staccato riffs—but the way it subsequently grew and expanded made it that much more memorable and enjoyable. This is where Reclamation, I think, succeeds over its predecessor. These guys throw some great musical curve balls—the light, traditional jazz drumming of “Gaslight”; the way Vossler can change up his contributions (like a beefy shred solo on “War Machine” or the noisy pinch harmonics about halfway through “Radicals”) without giving up his style; Rosenboom’s impressive palette of extended trumpet techniques, etc.—but it’s all composed in such a way that it rewards multiple listens. It’s like a musical diamond mine—the deeper you go, the more you find.

What ties the music together most—as it always has for Burning Ghosts—is the political motivation of the band. But perhaps being “politically motivated” isn’t even an accurate description; Rosenboom and company aren’t recording this album to proselytize or point fingers at specific politicians. Their musical ethos seems more dedicated to a message of inner change, made all the more abstract (and, arguably, more meaningful) by the fact that Burning Ghosts is completely instrumental. It isn’t their wish to bring the whole of society down under a suffocating mask of negativity. The way the tracks are structured and written, and the track listing itself—with the second half of the album essentially being one large suite—point to the end rather than the beginning. It feels like a call for introspection, a need to look beyond the surface. Burning Ghosts, in my opinion, seem to suggest that we look inside ourselves for change; that, instead of thinking skin-deep with issues, we should instead wield common sense and objectivity as tools rather than weapons, and begin this social remodeling by how we each live as individuals, instead of trying to create more isms to a world oversaturated with dogma.

Basically, Reclamation serves as an inverse of Burning Ghosts—while that album was an external reveille of sorts for the world at large, starting passionate and strong and welcoming all to join, Reclamation sits back and instead asks people to search internally. Revolution and change aren’t immediate things, and they don’t come from forcing laws and regulations upon the people—true change comes from within yourself and your conscious decision to do something different. This is where the words “revolution” and “resistance” stop becoming buzzwords and actually begin meaning something—when you digest an idea or an opinion fully instead of vomiting it back up when the moment calls for it. Maybe you don’t agree with this interpretation, and that’s perfectly fine; all aspects of art are subjective phenomena. No matter the political view or interpretation, though, one can find enjoyment in Reclamation, because at the core of this message is some of the LA’s best musicians (all virtuosos at their instruments) making music that pushes the boundaries of noise rock, free jazz and every genre in between into new and interesting places.

Reclamation is available on June 30 via Tzadik Records. You can preorder it on CD here.