Tome upon tome has been written on the value of nostalgia in art, and it’s not likely to stop any time soon. Despite the relatively young age of popular music, it has been and will always be a cyclical beast, a thing that more or less repeats itself with slight variations — some good and some bad — over the years.
So, we could talk about that. We could talk about whether Holy Ghost!’s throwback ’80s dance/soundtrack music even has a point, or whether there’s any value to be found in honoring the past, or whether it’s even possible to create music that’s entirely original, with no ties to a previous era.
And, the response would come: “But , we don’t care about any of that pretentious bullshit. We want to know one thing and one thing only. Does Dynamics make you dance?”
To put it simply, yes. If nothing else, the Brooklyn duo keeps feet shuffling, arms flailing, and (insert however you like to move here) for the entirety of their second album, from the opening phantom bloops of “Okay” all the way to the last synth echo of “Cheap Shots”. “Dumb Disco Ideas” is eight full minutes of artificial cowbell and talking clavinet, built specifically to dehydrate anyone at any club, any time, anywhere.
Is danceability enough though? I’m sure many of the band’s fans would say yes without batting an eye, but it’s a legitimate question when you’re making an album (That’s album, mind you, not club mix). Albums are meant to function outside of a concert, open bar, or dance party. They’re meant to stand on their own as works of art. Sure, other mediums or experiences can enhance their power (see: Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, etc.), but at the end of the day, good songs are good songs. And good songs written, assembled, and compiled in a compelling way make for good albums.
Even if you don’t agree with that, it would seem that Holy Ghost! do, as they seem to be going for something bigger than a passable soundtrack for town-painting, or Axel Foley breaking into a warehouse. Like their self-titled debut, Dynamics seems preoccupied with drugs, death, boredom, and partying, and yet it never gets specific enough with any of these topics to develop a distinct point of view. DFA label-mates LCD Soundsystem were never that detail-oriented either, but James Murphy’s keen sense of self-deprecation (not to mention his age) almost always led to relatable songs about feeling out of place. Although Murphy has been an invaluable mentor to the band, Holy Ghost! seem more concerned with playing it cool. Even when they’re taking pills in “Changing Of The Guard” that make them feel “jealous and a little mean,” they remain satisfied with their choice. “What could be better than this?” they ask. There’s no sense of conflict, no sense of stakes in any of the problems they’re going through, and if there is, it’s buried in the overly retro production. Either that, or the sarcasm just isn’t strong enough to pick up on.
The one exception is “It Must Be The Weather”. It’s the track with the most breathing room — the keys and electronic drums give a rare amount of leeway to the vocals — but that’s not why it succeeds. “It Must Be The Weather” works because by using a tired cliche (“it must be the weather”) to tell someone they’re okay, Holy Ghost! lets us know that they’re not okay. There’s nothing cool or chill about blaming your issues on the climate. It’s actually pretty depressing when you think about it.
Further listening and a proper lyrics sheet might reveal similarly resonant words in more of the record’s songs. For now, however, Holy Ghost!’s lack of specificity and fixation with ’80s gloss have worked against them. Nostalgia bit them in the ass. Sure, you can dance to Dynamics. But that’s about it.
Essential Tracks: “It Must Be The Weather”