In some ways, the early life of a band is the best time to check them out. The group is willing to try lots of different ideas while still forming a musical identity. When a band knows what they’re going for and still throws in a few curve balls? There’s hardly a better way to start. For Ghost Mall, their debut EP, Goons, is part punkish, part anthemic, and part intended lunacy. But it all works, creating a passionate record that isn’t only fun to listen to but also sounds like it was fun to make.
In general, this album is a whirlwind of sounds that push and pull traditional song structures in several different directions. The general production and breakneck strumming give it the feeling of low-fi punk. In other moments, sometimes within the same song, the band will slow things down, drop out all instruments, or pull out a singalong anthem that somehow felt natural all along. On paper, so many different ideas over the course of 23 minutes may sound like a disastrous mess. But Ghost Mall smoothly sails over any difficult transitions, making Goons a short, enjoyable roller coaster of a ride.
The album begins with “40 Nugs”, starting with Jimi Sutherland’s rapid drum taps before music explodes all over the place. Lyrics are yelled out in a stream-of-consciousness delivery, passing before you even know what was said. Everything here is very fuzzed-out, sounding like they played in a garage with a tape recorder on nearby. It works, though, adding to the indie punk feel of the song. With a wordless chorus of oohs, this track is made to open festival sets. It’ll get people moshing and bodies surfing in no time.
If the entire album was as fast as the opener, it would feel like it’s over in seconds. Fortunately, “Senile Felines” moves in a less rampant direction, building up and through various musical ideas thrown in by the band. It starts with what sounds like a musical fax machine, jittering along in a single-note beat. Footstep-style drums come in around the same time as singer Pierce Lightning’s droning voice, quickly differentiating itself from the shouting in track number one. The fizzy keys of Alex the Colonel announce their presence with an increasingly noticeable melody as time goes on. Once guitarist Cody Torlincasi kicks in, though, the song evolves from chugging sonic experiment to epic guitar anthem. This build that climaxes in a high-powered ending is what makes the song work.
“Balloon Ideas” is probably the most surreal track on the album. It’s a very punkish cut, clocking in at less than three minutes and featuring guitar playing aggressive enough to break strings. Out of nowhere, a harmony of voices break out into the chorus of “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie. After about 15 seconds of this, the music kicks back in from where it left off. The first time you listen, it’s confusing. The second time, it’s intriguing. By the third time, it’s pretty damn funny due to how random and out of place it is. Maybe Ghost Mall wanted to dismiss any labeling as a punk group. Maybe they knew it could create an instant singalong at any show. Maybe they did it for no damn reason at all. Whatever the case, it certainly makes “Balloon Ideas” a must-hear.
“Young Liars” is the highlight of Goons, combining punk and anthemic vibes into one song. It has a slower intro than anything so far, with more delicate guitar touches filling in the space around the heavy drumbeat. When the song moves into its main verse, a wave of chords washes over the headphones. Musically, there’s a lot of variety here too. The band switches between heavy and breezy with ease. The background keyboard will set all the right parts of your brain alight, but the rest of the track will make you want to scream. Besides its lighter interludes, “Young Liars” should be used for rowdy sporting events, especially with lines like, “We want you to scream/you set yourself free.”
The closer, “Johnny Appleseed”, is another unusual, yet awesome, song. A spoken word vocal moves over a background drone, occasional reverberating guitar chords, and light drum taps. It’s similar to how the singer talks to the crowd at shows while the band starts behind him. The music seems to swell or shrink depending on Lightning’s tone. It’s not all talking, though, as the singing starts up again once the full band begins. This six-minute track builds over time, shifting from one position to the next just at the point where a particular section starts to feel too long. The number and the record culminate with the band singing, “Let’s save the world. That’s why we do this/Basements and best friends get us through this.” It’s made to close a concert with the crowd yelling along and was the perfect song to close the EP.
Goons is a display of Ghost Mall’s many talents. Throughout the record, they show off various styles individually before mashing them all together to make music that’s both familiar yet different. From the pulse-racing opener to the slow-burning closer, this EP is a journey that’s definitely worth going on, even with only five songs. Personally, I’m excited to see what they do with a full-length album.