Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

Intensity Ghost

When Intensity Ghost first arrived in my inbox a few months ago, it came with a recommendation from the excellent No Quarter label that it was a "great rock album". Even before I’d clicked play, this got me thinking about what such a thing might be in these over-stimulated times. The very expression seems to come from an age that doesn’t exist anymore, when a record could achieve importance by upholding a proud tradition of genre-free rock classicism based on the virtues of musicianship, performance and a few killer riffs. Numerous movements from punk onwards have railed against such a notion (many of which, like punk, ended up being assimilated into the canon), but it’s the deadening corporatisation of the music industry over the past few years that really seems to have deleted the idea in our collective unconscious.

Of course, it’s difficult to completely kill an idea. Chris Forsyth is one of those guys who’s been around in the underground for a while, getting good notices for a regular stream of avant psych/folk instrumental guitar albums, without ever threatening to bother the mainstream. Then last year’s Solar Motel got a bit more attention, and Forsyth put a band together to tour it. One of the major upshots of this was that Forsyth gained a sparring partner in additional guitarist Paul Sukeena, allowing him to develop a twin guitar sound in the tradition of Neil Young/Danny Whitten, Jerry Garcia/Bob Weir, and most pertinently, Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Intensity Ghost is the first album recorded by Forsyth’s new band, and it’s just immense.

‘The Ballad Of Freer Hollow’ comes rolling in like the magisterial chiming of church bells over a great expanse of prairie, a call to the faithful that immediately taps into the frontier mythology of both the first American pioneers and the original west coast psychedelicists. Its swaggering, interweaving guitar lines sound joyful and celebratory without ever getting misty-eyed or drifting into dread ‘Americana’ territory. The melodies get progressively more discursive and exploratory as the track pushes forward, but the beating heart rhythm of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Steven Urgo never flags, anchoring the song to the earth even as notes begin to soar upwards into the outer atmosphere. The track ends on an ecstatic recapitulation of the main theme underpinned by a searing solo from Forsyth, not a second of its 11:25 running time wasted.

By contrast, ‘Yellow Square’ reins in the band’s firepower, a strutting bass pulse arising from a confusion of voices, the blues turned into a huge, blunt instrument, ghostly licks sparking off its drive shaft. When it finally comes, the big slide guitar riff is mechanical and deliberate, Gilmour-esque if Dave Gilmour was a robot (and I mean that in the best possible sense). There’s an awesome horn-like resonance to the tone they achieve here, the track remorselessly building to a climax of frenzied glissando.

Different again, ‘I Ain’t Waiting’ is poised and rather beautiful, opening with a series of swooning, bedazzled chords that place Forsyth in the same lineage of players as Roy Montgomery and Loren MazzaCane Connors, though it’s his Television influence that looms largest, particularly when the track sounds like it’s about to burst into ‘Marquee Moon’. The band forge an incredibly organic, elegiac sound, with notes tumbling over one another in dizzying concatenations by the end – it’s easy to forget that guitars can deliver such an emotional charge when so often they’re used as drab wallpaper rather than weapons of the heart.

The title track takes a jarring, but exhilarating left turn with a stabbing discordant riff akin to Sonic Youth (Forsyth cites Moore/Renaldo as another key pairing) leading into a headlong guitar-rush propelled by shuffling krautrock rhythms. A half-speed breakdown gives us a chance to catch our breath, before that riff fires the track up all over again. ‘Paris Song’ closes the album in a shimmer of twilight atmospherics, as though Slint had looked into the night sky and felt wonderment and hope instead of terror and confusion. There’s a Talk Talk-esque dissolution, the guitars calling to each other in the sodium-hued darkness, a reedy organ drone like the buzzing of power cables overhead.

Intensity Ghost has got real heft and guts to it. It makes me want to resort to music writing clichés of a bygone age because, you know, it’s a great rock album.

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