Photo by Yumiko YadaMAYBE GHOST LEADER MASAKI BATOH REALLY has built his own Montauk-style multidimensional space-time resonator from Preston B. Nichols' insane designs. Perhaps he draws artistic inspiration while sitting in a Delta-T coil-powered chair in Ghost's Tokyo headquarters, bending time, hopping frequencies, and picking up long-gone signals from time-places like Melbourne, Florida, circa 1969, Munich '71, London '69'71, Bombay '72 and late-'65 Potrero Hill, California. How else to explain the sensation that Snuffbox Immanence and Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet, two extraordinary psychedelic folk-rock albums simultaneously released just weeks ago, already seem to have been with us for decades, their grooves worn and bindings cracked, the covers sanctified by dripped candle wax, smelling of roses and basil?
It could just be that Ghost resides in another of Nichols' theoretical spaces -- "zero time" -- that ethereal bottle space outside our normal three-dimensional universe where time's grim march never even started. It's a fantastic, paradisiacal island that a few fellow troubadours of perception -- Amon Düül II, "Battle of Evermore"phase Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead/Charlatans/Jefferson Airplane S.F.-sound phalanx, Fisherman's Bluesera Waterboys, Pearls Before Swine, early-'90s Talk Talk -- have succeeded in reaching, generously leaving real-world runed markers to show the way.
For Snuffbox Immanence, painstakingly recorded over 12 months, Ghost eschews the brutish '70s hard-rock trappings that occasionally appeared on previous releases (and dominated the cerebellum-splitting '97 album Free Your Satori Mind, credited to Ghost offshoot Cosmic Invention) in favor of a largely acoustic soundworld. Almost drumless, Snuffbox is a hazy, dreamy album dazed and suffused with a chamber orchestra of horns and harpsichords, recorders and lutes, banjos and acoustic guitars, vibes and gaida, cellos and Celtic harps. As Michio Kurihara's intricate, gorgeous electric guitar spirals into the background, Batoh sings in a Sylvianesque sad croon, the English words softly, carefully pronounced in a slightly formal, clipped tone that inevitably recalls Yoko Ono's gentler work, especially on the vibes-and-piano-heavy cover of the Rolling Stones' naughty chestnut "Live With Me." Batoh's own lyrics are formed from some peculiarly fractured version of the English language, one in which beautifully strange lines like "deliquesce whole loop into a blot" and "When we walking in the field of shaker, might we be embedded in phosphorescent expanse" are not uncommon.
Snuffbox's stylistic panculturalism is staggeringly wide-ranging, imaginative and tasteful. Besides the marvelous Stones cover, there are story-songs in the style of British Isles folk balladry; an instrumental ("Daggma") that draws the route to the Eastern roots of Terry Riley's In C with its circular, minimalist vibe and tubular bell patterns; the Düülist psychedelic space-march of the title track's electric chorus; and "Fukeiga," which sounds something like early-'70s Pink Floyd recording in the tropics after an early-evening yoga session. Snuffbox is the extremely rare album that gains from an eclectic range of inspiration -- the work of learned devotees rather than idea-starved dilettantes.
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TUNE IN, TURN ON, FREE TIBET, WRITTEN and recorded in (reportedly) just one month last year after the Snuffbox sessions were concluded, is even wilder. Given its subject matter, you'd expect this to be a more strident album, and it is, starting with its striking foil-wrap cover and ending with some righteous free-rock dissonance. But Free Tibet is also a work of enormous delicacy. Never mind the stock market, this 60-minute album is the real triple-witching hour: idyllic/rueful country-folk tunes, passionate political pleas, and an extended audio collage evoking the Chinese destruction of Tibetan culture and land. Or maybe it's more -- a secret hex, a sonic rite, an exorcism of a malignant presence . . . like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman trying to levitate the Pentagon in '67.
Or all of the above. The opener, "We Insist," has bleating horns and barnyard animals, echoey background utterances and a bad-trip mechanized voice coughing above a nightmare buzz. "Comin' Home" is a folk ballad with a low, massed chorus at its close -- you can almost see the stern, determined protest marchers moving through the countryside. "Way to Shelkar" is gorgeous, but its Mellotronic reverie is shattered by a helicopter's drone -- the universal sound of occupying forces. "Lhasa Lhasa" is one of Ghost's finest-ever originals, a dignified three-minute country-ballad anthem.
"Change the World" is Ghost finally getting the Led out -- steeped in electric cello and recorder, it's a highlands melody with a chorus of yowling stereophonic guitars and demi-Bonham drums -- while the album's concluding title track is a tremendous 33-minute instrumental acousto-electric journey through multiple sound zones, finally arriving at (where else?) Zero Time. Fucking wonderful: a hippie record that averts the reek of patchouli rock while achieving its aesthetic, political and spiritual aspirations.
GHOST | Snuffbox Immanence | Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet | (Drag City)