Review: ‘Ghost on Ghost’ is disappointing

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

If you’ve heard anything about it, it’s easy to go into Iron and Wine’s new album, “Ghost on Ghost,” with certain expectations.

At first, it seemed like there was nothing wrong at all. Echoic vocals, subdued background music, weirdo lyrics – just your standard Iron and Wine fare.

Upon reaching the end of the first song, however, it’s easy to see why most people have such a low opinion of the record.

The first track, “Caught in the Briars,” is probably the best track on the whole album. It starts off very soft, with some really great guitar, and those typical “ooh, ooh, ooh’s” that Iron and Wine is so fond of. The horns that are pulled in sound very natural with the music, which has a weird beachy feel to it.

But then out of nowhere, the song devolves into a dreadful horn/piano/drums jam session.

Jam bands are the kind of thing that really only work in person, and even then, they’re still bad. Iron and Wine is by no means a jam band, but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by listening to this album.

It only gets worse from there. The next track, “The Desert Babbler,” has elements of ‘50s doo-wop, some R&B, more jazz and even a few violins thrown in for no apparent reason. It all sounds weird together, and none of it works with singer Samuel Beam’s falsetto.

Most of the rest is so repetitive that it all blends together. The only way that you can tell when “Grass Windows” ends and “Singers and the Endless Song” begins is if a Spotify ad starts playing.

One song that did work was “Grace for Saints and Ramblers,” which was one of the more upbeat tracks. It avoids the god-awful saxophone and manages to be very catchy, even if it does feel a bit like one long run-on sentence.

“New Mexico’s No Breeze” brings to mind bad elevator music, but with lyrics. It just never seems to be going anywhere. The piano solo in particular just sounds like someone slapping their hands against the keyboard keys.

Similarly, the saxophone in “Lover’s Revolution” sounds like one of Beam’s friends trying to annoy him by playing a note every time he opens his mouth.

The whole album just feels drowned in unnecessary sound. One of the best parts of the album was a four-second bit at the end of “New Mexico’s No Breeze,” wherein the music stops and you can finally hear Beam’s voice.

In the very last track, “Baby Center Stage,” it finally feels like the falsetto, the horns, the drums and the violins finally work together and are no longer fighting each other to be heard.

All in all, “Ghost on Ghost” is too jazzy for what it is, and the instruments feel too dissonant to easily get swept up in the album. Hopefully, Iron and Wine’s next attempt will be a bit more successful.

Rating: One out of four stars.

Story: R. SCOTT MORRIS, A&E Editor