This debut has been a long time coming. David Stith first started on the path that would lead to Heavy Ghost when he made his way to New York, and found himself helping his new friend Shara record what would become My Brightest Diamond’s debut. It wasn’t long before he was snapped up by her label, that little institution of American indie, Asthmatic Kitty, known for the much-loved folk of his other new friend Sufjan Stevens. With demo versions of album tracks like -Thanksgiving Moon’ and -BMB’ already garnering small but fiercely positive praise online, he set about making an album for these new friends and their label – and a fine album it is.
Stith initially feared his creative streak might be of a darker shade than those of his labelmates, but he fits in well. Much like Sufjan’s output, the songs here are utterly genuine, and it’s obvious they are put together with enough love and imagination to outweigh their heavier ghosts. The record flows uphill, starting with a rake of moody songs packed with little hooks that escape first notice, such as the strings that erupt like cruel laughter in the fine lead single -Pity Dance’, which dwells on the worst effects of loneliness. After this, things take a cheerier turn, culminating in the joyous ( specifically, the kind of we-just-escaped-death-now-let’s-dance joyous) -Fire of Birds’, before the record finally finds its tone, at once hopeful and pensive. It reaches its highpoint on the devastating -Braid of Voices’ – the kind of musical rush you can’t imagine coming from the pen of one man. The words ‘I’m blue inside, I’m the blue light’ form a kind of heartbreaking refrain as though the noise and fury of earlier tracks has dissipated, and all that’s left is his voice, alone and vulnerable. It’s moments like these that make Heavy Ghost the achievement it is.
I’ll be honest – I love this album, and can’t think of anything quite like it. The closest comparison, arguably, is Antony Hegarty and his dark, raw balladry – and while it holds to an extent, Stith’s music is far more recaltritant, less likely to wear its heart on its sleeve than invite you to dig for it yourself. A rewarding experience from a striking new voice.