Zola Jesus, Cold Cave, Frank (Just Frank), Fever Ray, SALEM, Robert Smith guesting on the new Crystal Castles single: it seems that there’s been a revival of all things gloomy, dramatic and gothic of late. Former Ghosts’ aesthetic certainly falls under those terms: their impressive 2009 album, Fleurs, made no secret of its dark themes, mainman Freddy Ruppert pouring himself into songs whose subject matter included his mother’s death from cancer. Former Ghosts is ultimately his project, but it also includes contributions from Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, TEARIST’s Yasmine Kittles and Nika Rosa Danilova (aka the aforementioned Zola Jesus). New Love follows hot on the heels of its predecessor, and the stark cover art is indication enough that Ruppert hasn’t started viewing the world through rose-tinted lens just yet.
The record is characterised by austere synths, dramatic electronic flourishes and Ruppert’s Ian Curtis-esque baritone. The LA-based musician has stated in interviews that it’s a darker beast than Fleurs, and that holds up: the vibe of the album is wintry and bleak, almost relentlessly sombre. Despite all that, Ruppert is a romantic at heart, and doomed as that romanticism may be, it occasionally shines through. The lyrics might be ambiguous at best, but ‘Right Here’ at least sounds cheery, its tuneful, almost-manic synths reminiscent of The Cure’s more dayglo moments. At the opposite end of the scale are the desolate atmospherics of ‘Until You Are Alone Again’, or ‘New Orleans’, which features a desperate vocal (“It’s all my fault/I fell in love in the first place”) over a pulsing, sweeping electronic backdrop.
Overall, though, the impact seems to have lessened this time around. The guest vocalists, a large part of Former Ghosts’ appeal, are arguably under-utilised here: Danilova gets the chance to let loose with her unmistakeable vocals on ‘Chin Up’ and ‘Only In Time’, with the former being a clear highlight, while Stewart contributes eerie backing vocals here and there, but the dominant voice is Ruppert’s. Not necessarily a bad thing, but New Love is a record that’s stylised to the point of distraction at times, and could do with more of the extra touch that Danilova in particular provides.
It’s become a cliché by now to point out that Former Ghosts aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Fans of the first album will find much to like here, with plenty of nuance and texture under the surface. For the floating voter, there mightn’t be quite enough to distinguish New Love from the other purveyors of icy gloom doing the rounds at the moment.