That Ghost – Songs Out Here

written by: April 4, 2011
That Ghost Songs Out Here Album Cover Release Date: February 27, 2011


Don’t bother. That Ghost doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. That Ghost’s Facebook presence is also slim. In today’s hyper-informative world, it’s as if he doesn’t exist.

The ghost in question is one-man-band Ryan Schmale, a Midwestern shut-in with perfectly unkempt hair who specializes in a strain of indie folk so delicate listeners may not want to breathe while listening for fear of blowing it all down. His stage name and the equally removed title of his debut, Songs Out Here, appropriately represent a collection of detached, shuddering folk songs. That last word has a certain exclusive context. “Here” is where he is, not where his listeners sit.

Schmale’s voice reconciles the breezy, throwback cool of M. Ward with the naked agitation stewing inside a hung-over Patrick Stickles (Fuck it, just call him Brighter Eyes).

He sings every song in that post-Mascis croak that makes Michael Cera sound like Jason Statham, weighing down even the album’s lighter moments. There’s nary a fleck of originality here, from the production (bedroom-bred) to the lyrics (mildly clever, usually moping about death or failed communication—two things a ghost knows well). Even if his distinctive singing voice sounds familiar 10 times over, Schmale’s source material is a solo bandero.

Of course, singer-songwriters can do worse than Conor Oberst comparisons. But where the Omaha native’s lyrics can be altogether enigmatic, vivid and off-kilter, Schmale’s sound as vague and indecisive as his voice. It’s as if the ink was fading on his printed lyric sheets and he had to make it up as he went along.

Songs Out Here relates to a ghostly existence from the start. “Don’t choke me/Don’t bury me/Under those wilting leaves” he sings from the metallic chain-gang opener “After Passing.” Here’s another example: “Put me to bed/With sheets on my head/One glass of water and a blanket of pills.”

Being sad and disconnected seems to be his thing.

From the tone of Schmale’s melodies to the touch of his words, Songs Out Here is a near-constant drag, which is an accomplishment for an album comprised of sub-three-minute mope fests.

Most of Songs Out Here‘s tracks get along on a steady, militant drum pattern. It’s fitting since That Ghost appears to be marching in lock step with the boy-interrupted indie crowd. However, the most grabbing moments come when Schmale dares to walk outside the left-right-left motion (“To Like You,” with its reverbed brripp-brripp guitar syncopation, is the best of the bunch). If Schmale steps out of line more in the future, no matter what he calls himself, he’ll start sounding less like a memory and more like one of the living.

That Ghost – Songs Out Here Tracklist:

  1. “After Passing”
  2. “In House”
  3. “To Like You”
  4. “The Older”
  5. “Pale Child”
  6. “Calls”
  7. “An Only Son”
  8. “Remain”
  9. “Won’t I Sleep””
  10. Here Is the Hour”
  11. “Back”