Happy Ghosts Reviews

Here are some reviews for the work of Happy Ghosts. As with all reviews, you have got to take the good with the bad (and with the Happy Ghosts we get good ones, bad ones, good ones with bad things in it, bad ones with good things in it as well as reviews praising us for things that another review criticises us for), and of course, all of the really good reviews I have lost because it has taken me so long to put this site together (trust me!):

 Reverence For Life

      

The Happy Ghosts is the current musical vehicle for multi-instrumentalist Andrew Muecke, and this release ‘Reverence for Life’ is a collection of songs composed around Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of the same name.

Personally, I enjoy the discovery of new horizons through music and applaud composers who seek to enlighten listeners by introducing them to new concepts that they might otherwise have never explored. For those who just want the music, this album stands on its own as a well produced collection of pop songs that are easily accessible to most listeners. Those who look for the story behind the music will enjoy this album more if they familiarize themselves with the works of Dr Schweitzer and then seek to relate the music and songs to the theory underpinning their construction.

Andrew Muecke has a long history expressed across several musical projects (refer to www.andrewmuecke.com); on this album he has written the music and lyrics and played most of the instruments on all 14 songs. In many ways this is an Andrew Muecke solo project, but with contributions from Matt Cahill (vocals on “Voices”) and Carrie Barr (vocals on the others tracks). Brother Jon Muecke also makes a cameo appearance on guitar on one track.

Opening track “Voices” evokes David Bowie of the late ’90s and serves as a bookend for the album, with the final track being a short reprise. With its catchy rhythm and Matt Cahill’s mellow vocals, this is a strong but deceptive opening, as Carrie Barr then takes over vocal duties for the rest of the album.

Most of the tracks have quite a mellow mood to them, with synthesizers, funky bass, programmed beats, flutes and sundry sound effects overlaid as the mood dictates. This is a well constructed album that does not fit into and easily defined genre. There is enough variety to ensure that the music is not repetitive, but enough consistency to ensure that each song feels like it fits. This consistency and the upbeat nature of the album’s mood reflect the Schweitzer philosophy in musical and lyric form. A joy to listen to and contemplate.

Reviewed by Phil Catley, Music SA 15 June 2012
(First ever 5-star review awarded by MusicSA!)

Silver Lining

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It’s hard these days to sort music into genres with any degree of accuracy which gives rise to the confusing phenomenon of artists being forced to label themselves with the term “experimental”. This is an understandable problem, given that sometimes your music just doesn’t fit into established or named styles. Happy Ghosts CD “Silver Lining” is not what I would call experimental but in that case, what is it? The bread-and-butter description is of a collection of 15 electronica style tracks which are mostly quite short for the genre, averaging around 3 minutes with the exception being the final track “Tuning In” at 04:26.

The CD begins with a funky, up-beat vibe with the instrumentation seeming to be live bass with electronic drums and synths plus vocal sample cut-up, and what might be an understated use of guitars here and there. The term “funk” would be the best general descriptor I could apply to this music, although there are darker, more moody moments to be found if you listen.

Tracks such as “On the Move” and “Gonna Do It” include both male and female live vocals as well as the sample cut-up which demonstrate unfortunate problems with timing, indicating possible audio recording latency which could have been addressed. Or possibly performance inaccuracy?

Overall however, the production on this album is fairly slick and nicely mixed with well-chosen ensembles that suit the very laid-back and sometimes ambient tone of the music. The sample cut-up is witty (listen to “Beautiful Homes”) without being aggressive or startling, and underpins the music rather than taking a feature role.

Most of the album is firmly anchored in major progressions with the exception of “Emergency”, my favourite track of this collection which offers a darker, less funky flavour and more in the way of a possible message. This piece also demonstrates an appropriate use of reverb which muddies up the sound nicely without destroying the intent. Noise is nice.

Another dirtier track with a slightly rockier and more bent feel is “Strange New Shape”. The tracks which most deserve the label “experimental” are probably the last 2 which leave the funky bass lines and beats at home and take the synths and guitars on holiday instead. Strange to think that those old staples the electric guitars (or simulations) can still provide the basis for the more unusual music.

When reviewing other people’s music I often come across the difficulty of analysing the intention of the artists – it’s difficult to provide a fair critique without knowing exactly what it was the creator was hoping to achieve. I don’t think that this is an album for dancing to, unless you wanted to do a slow groove around the lounge room whilst dusting the bookshelves. Neither is it music for doing yoga to, perhaps it’s somewhere in between. There is an audience for Happy Ghosts and I hope that they continue to release their music and grow with it.

Reviewed by Dorothy Pawlowski, Music SA 24 December 2008

Adelaide-based duo Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey (AKA Happy Ghosts) have already received local accolades for their short films and video work, with last year’s debut Secret Code of Beauty album emerging after a series of independent EP releases over the past three years. A scant year on, this follow-up effort Silver Lining sees Happy Ghosts growing in both confidence and ambition, with their eclectic fusion of dub, post-rock and downbeat electronic elements taking on new levels of depth and detail. There’s also still the creeping, yet subtle, sense of unease that pervaded this album’s predecessor, something that’s particularly brought out amidst the eerie movie samples that drift through the dubbed-out Emergency. The second time around, Happy Ghosts have managed to craft an album that nicely pushes the bar up compared to their debut effort, whilst also hinting at the new directions they could take next.

Reviewed by evilchris, 3D WORLD, 26th November, 2008

There’s something richly amusing about this experimental duo’s latest CD silver lining. Members Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, ably assisted by Carrie Barr who Carries the vocals on a number of tracks, have seemingly diversified their sound by introducing elements of pop, psychedelia, tribal rhythms and grooves.
That’s right, this experimental duo have experimentally returned to the musical mainstream in what must be the safest bet this side of $10 on the sun to rise tomorrow.

Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. Experimental music is always in danger of sounding like a couple of meatheads who can’t play instruments, banging some rocks together and calling it music. By introducing known elements, but playing with them and presenting them in interesting ways, they’re forcing the mind to take a double take, hearing familiar sounds in unfamiliar settings.

This is probably best exemplified by Radio Stories where elements of esoteric sounds, vocal samples, funky bass jams and tape squeals intermingle and combine to great effect, a consistent, ebb and flow that resonates well, letting the mind complete the story.

Of course this doesn’t always work. Did Anything Happen sounds a bit like a stoned David Bowie impersonator, sitting about, saying what he sees like Randy Newman. That’s a rare lowlight though. Even some of the other more idiosyncratic tracks like Emergency have a driving energy throughout them that that compels, helping create a musical journey as the album progresses.

And, with the country inspired Strange New Shape, complete with Simon & Garfunkel overtones leading in to the rock balladish Goodbye Goodbye, you get a definite sense of this music leading somewhere.

This may not be for everyone but with an intelligent deconstruction of musical motifs and, most importantly, a good explication of musicianship, this is an interesting album where the few wrongs are overcome by the many rights. My one real criticism is that it doesn’t always go far enough and sometimes ends up relying on the musical modes it’s trying to reconfigure. Evocative and generally thoughtful, 3 Stars!

Reviewed by TheDon, inthemix.com.au, 6th November 2008

Secret Code of Beauty
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‘Secret Code of Beauty’ is the latest LP release from local ambient-electronica producers, Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, AKA Happy Ghosts. The album comprises of 10 tracks each one unique in their own way, some groovy ambient, some haunting, some just out there. ‘Secret Code of beauty’ takes you on journey that you stoner electro freaks will want to take again.

The album is an eclectic collection of samples filled in with creative vocal passages, funky bass and guitar, groovy percussion/beats and haunting strings. It is well crafted and has good continuity.

Most tracks are funky and danceable with melodic guitar motifs and trippy vocal samples and groovy beats. I liked the placement of grungy samples and the thought given to instrumentation and arrangements.

Mostly it is free flowing ambient electronica but with defined sections. I also enjoyed the occasional appearance of African percussion also piano and trumpet and some synths all us electro heads know and love. Go Reason!

The creators identify with composers such as David Sylvain, the Clash, and the Beatles but the album has a very Australian feel to it. There are also great storylines in the form of poetic lyrics and free style vocal passages, these only add to the journey. I was surprised to hear operatic vocals on track ten “Lament” a cool way to round off the album, and there is a bonus track too. Overall a unique creation from the duo.

The guys also create VJ style music videos that can be found on Myspace (www.myspace.com/happyghosts). Definitely worth a look.

The independent local act has had some recent success with video exposure on “Rage”, local radio and a review of ‘Secret Code of Beauty’ in the Sydney Morning Herald. If you like your ambient grooves check them out!

Reviewed by Dale Taylor, MUSIC SA, 29th May 2008

This pleasant diversion from ambient Adelaide duo Happy Ghosts doesn’t quite ever get airborne. Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey have won a host of plaudits for their EP video clips since forming three years ago and this is their first standalone audio longplayer. But you’re left with the nagging feeling we’re missing a visual accompaniment to many of these tracks.

Muecke employs an impressive range of instruments, from African-influenced percussion on Wealth & Waste to a buzzing bass on Loosen Up, while Starkey interjects with a dizzying array of sampled snatches, mixed and mashed up refracted voices from the ether.

On Young, a small boy reminisces about ice creams and sea smells, while Yes Yes Yes juxtaposes a breezy rollercoaster announcer (‘sit tight’ etc) with an ironically monotonous Latin trio. Secret Code of Beauty opens promisingly with the fuzzy guitar and sample-heavy Trouble Maker but thereafter settles a little too comfortably into a one-note ambient soundscape. The tempo gradually drops until Should Have Known, whose vibe is so laidback it could have been culled from the soundtrack to the seminal humanist film Koyaanisqatsi.

The album’s probably best experienced at a single sitting at high volume, where the tracks meld seamlessly into a multi-instrumental dreamscape. After such an eclectic series of samples, the operatic diva on the closing Lament comes as a welcome relief. It would have rounded off the LP nicely but for the addition of a brave but ill-judged cover of Bloc Partys The Prayer, which strips back the hi-energy original into a fractured breakbeat with jazzy sax, disconcertingly converting Kele Okereke’s soaring vocals into a painstakingly dour Dave Gahan-lite.

At its best (Yes Yes Yes), this could be lifted straight off Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts, but at its worst (Eternal Flame), its a meandering, inconsequential effort that needs the added boost of Happy Ghosts multimedia muscle.

Reviewed by Alexander Maxwell, BEAT Magazine, 6th February 2008

Ideas sustain this South Australian duo – snippets of thought, insufficient to produce a song, but sounding like Massive Attack when fused. The tunes are ambient, the sound reflecting the duo’s work on soundtracks, but there is the occasional squall of a trumpet or guitar. The music is at its best when woven from the prosaic: on Young they set the rambling lists of a child’s recount against glassy chords, while on Lament they set an opera amid the hum of cicadas.

Reviewed by Erik Jensen, Sydney Morning Heald, 1st March 2008

‘The secret is to just stick with instruments and samples’
Happy Ghosts are an instrumental duo from Adelaide who specialise in cruisy, slightly funky and ambient electronic music. The kind of thing you could play on a loop at cocktail bars of inoffensive dinner parties. Lifting samples from jazz, soul and bossa nova records, it is a surprisingly confident and listenable release. The music is slick, laid-back and well produced, but what’s with the vocals? More inane chatter than actual organized lyrics, the words spoken/mumbled by Ashley Starkey actually border on extremely annoying about halfway through the release. And sadly, it doesn’t get any better with time. I don’t care if you have the most thought provoking lyrics of all time (and trust me, Under my thumb/what does that song mean?/out of our heads! doesn’t come across as particularly deep), if you’re fishing for the note, I’ll be fishing for the fast forward button. And I bet I can get there quicker.

Reviewed by Mitch Alexander, RAVE Magazine, 6th February 2008

Loosen Up

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Local underground music exponents Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, together hereon known as Happy Ghosts, have had what they deem to be quite a successful past couple of years with a wide backing from both radio and, in particular, film and video festivals as well as television show such the ABC’s ‘Rage’, where they’ve received considerable rotation.With much bigger and more ambitious plans for 2007, this talented pair of Casperites have released their third EP which not only features the lead track, Loosen Up, but a bonus three-track DVD/video compilation which includes their previous two singles, Booze And Pills and Something Beautiful.With Muecke behind the wheel musically, the visual aesthetics and voice for this well-tuned vehicle are provided by Starkey. Categorising themselves under a genre dubbed as ‘ambient alternative’, in essence, what that means is their sound is predominately electronica on the exterior with a lightly-added spritz of live instrumentation and sampling tastefully added throughout. Loosen Up is an immediate example of the post-Floyd, new age influence that breaks away from what’s expected by the simple use of guitar as a base and constant, well-measured key changes from the hypnotic electronic embellishments and mantra-like spoken refrain imbedded within.The clip uses a psychological/science-based montage as an appropriate backdrop and, having already made it as a top ten finalist in the 2006 Australian and NZ Below Ground Video Fest Awards, one could predict further attention to come.The only other new track here, Young, has a slightly heavier, percussive jazz-infused feel to it with a small boy’s recall of happier days as the narrative. Also garnering accolades are the two other video clips featured here: Booze And Pills which (by use of a rubber chimpanzee mask as a talking head) also borrows voice-overs and footage from an old 1950s educational documentary, as well as Something Beautiful which was a finalist in the worldwide ’06 Portable Film Festival. It’s the latter track that I once, upon hearing it on radio, mistook as being a possible new David Byrne number, hence further illustrating another of Happy Ghosts’ mentors.

Definitely interesting material all round, which in turn tells me that we best keep an ear to the underground because what’s bubbling beneath may soon break to the surface and take on the big guns.

Reviewed by Steve Jones, DB Magazine 7th February 2007)

Something Beautiful

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‘Something Beautiful’ is the latest offering from local Adelaide duo Happy Ghosts. Happy Ghosts are Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey and together they have produced a very unique CD.

It contains four tracks of downbeat electronica all with a distinct feel and sound within the ambience of this genre. You won’t find the usual ‘verse, chorus, verse’ here, and yet the tracks all have their own solid foundation. This can be heard in the use of sequenced drums and keyboards, but it is the layering of vocals, guitar and spoken-word samples that creates the real aural experience.

Track 1, ‘Something Beautiful’, sets the scene with it’s smooth pop rhythm, looped synth chords, slap-back vocals and curious lyrics. Not to mention the expanded stereo field which places the music outside the speakers!

Track 2, ‘Four Emotions’, features guest vocalist Carrie Barr. It cruises along at a funky pace with an archetypal beat that has it’s origins in the music of West Africa. The track is the most dreamlike of the four. Carrie’s sweet multi-layered vocals drift across sustained keyboard textures. It’s almost hymn-like in it’s atmosphere.

Track 3, ‘Sharks or Skin’, is reminiscent of Happy Ghost’s earlier material with it’s seemingly random fragments of speech, set to a poppy electronic beat. It has a surreal effect especially with the chromatic ‘sirens’ in the background!

The last track, ‘Jungle Music’ at 1’54”, is more like an outro. It comes in with a cathedral organ playing a pentatonic scale, heavily reverbed with a ringing guitar. This is followed by some more curious spoken-word samples and then suddenly, it all ends……At first you just sit there, then you get up and play the whole thing again!

And that is the essence of this CD. It is something you can listen to many times over and never get bored. ‘Something Beautiful’ is a fascinating, creative and very engrossing piece of electronica.

adelaidebands.com (A.Sheerin December 2005)

Paranormal Behaviour

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The Happy Ghosts are an Adelaide based downbeat electronica duo, with an interesting angle. They don’t want to rock out, or get a floor pumping… Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey are producing a performance that is far more theatrical and visual than most. Their debut disc ‘Paranormal Behaviour’ throws up four tracks that manage to cover a lot of musical ground for an EP. Whimsical and shifting, it shows the world that the Happy Ghosts have the self-confidence to avoid mimicking established acts.

The album holds together in a wonderfully elastic way. There are samples peppered throughout the disc with a common source… they’re old TV and film grabs, and they look at family, and domestic life in days gone by. The samples are charming and antiquated, and create a nice crunchy contrast to the cleanly recorded instrumentation. The instrumentation is quite varied, though it would seem that Andrew speaks most eloquently through his work on guitar, and with his drum sequencing.

Further evidence of the act’s confidence is their comfortable, and recognisably Australian vocal elements. Three of the tracks feature Ashley’s voice, which has a lazy Australian drawl about it that he isn’t ashamed to hide. His vocals are often breathy, verging on whispered or spoken, and he relies on the character in his voice to make up make up for any musical imprecision.

The opening track ‘Booze & Pills’ is musically beautiful, and the samples’ cautionary notes on substance abuse and addiction are entertaining and at the same time, a little disturbing. The distorted guitar that comes in towards the end of the track brings it to a tidy climax, and it’s easy to hear why they chose this as their first video track. Unfortunately, the video is not included on the disc.

The Ideal Date’ features an unusual mix, with a bold and simple synth string line over a ultra-downbeat pseudo-trudge. I think that this and many other tracks on the CD could benefit from the replacement of Ashley’s vocals with a stronger voice, or perhaps a heavily effected one. My opinion holds for the third track, ‘Want Me’. The beds and samples for these tracks are sound, and the sunnier side of the Happy Ghosts shines through here

Saving the best for last, ‘For the Sun’ (mixed by Brett Sody) starts off with a busier beat that’s bold, dark and crisp. It sits behind layers of stuttering film samples and what sound like heavily effected, or synthesized strings. Different guitar lines come and go while spacious reverbs and drum effects give this track a greater richness than previous tracks. The only purely instrumental and sample driven track on the disc, this was the stand out for me, and left me anticipating the group’s next Happy Ghosts release.

IN THE MIX Review (Dagman, November 1, 2005)

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