Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Ireland’s premier post-rock outfit God Is An Astronaut. In anticipation of that splendid occasion, they have released what is arguably their most accomplished work to date in the form of their ninth studio album, Ghost Tapes #10, due February 12th, via Napalm Records.
Despite its brisk 37-minute runtime, which is the album’s sole “flaw,” because any new music the group create is music I always want more of, the album never feels rushed. It is instead a brilliantly-realized evolution of the group’s signature sound and sits amongst their best work.
Notable from the start is how moody and heavy Ghost Tapes #10 is overall. GIAA has always plumbed darker musical and emotional depths than contemporaries like Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, but much like on Epitaph, that darkness is almost tangible here. Right from the opening of the first track, “Adrift,” the guitar work is much more passionate and overdriven than it is across the previous recordings. That overdriven sound comes from Jamie Dean’s reappearance in the line-up on piano and guitar duties. He and fellow guitarist Torsten Kinsella conjure some of the most brooding and aggressive melodies of their career, from the thunderous attack at the beginning of “Adrift” to the almost noise-rock moments of “In Flux.”
The addition of Dean means the group’s sound here is the richest and most well-rounded it has ever been. The dual guitars are given more attention in the mix this time, emphasizing the wall-of-sound approach as heard in parts on Epitaph and Helios/Erebus. The synths of previous albums take more of a back seat, serving more to enhance the atmosphere and round out the compositions than to lead them as melodic focuses. “Fade” is an excellent example of this: the guitars sound frantically passionate, but that sound is enriched by the synths that then close the song, leading neatly into the next on which they feature much more prominently.
That said, there are moments of stillness across the album. Closer “Luminous Waves” is the best of these: it’s a richly-textured dream of a song, with a beautiful melody buoyed along on Niels Kinsella’s pensive bass line that resonates perfectly with cellist Jo Quail’s guest spot. “Fade” even pares back its frenetic guitars for one such moment, allowing an ethereal synth melody to breathe over Kinsella’s bass work and Lloyd Hanney’s excellent drumming. Even “Adrift” soon segues out of the heaviness into a more oneiric melody, much like a ship tossed on stormy seas that is eventually becalmed.
But these really are moments. The more crystalline melodies and lush soundscapes of works like Age of the Fifth Sun or A Moment of Stillness are not entirely abandoned, but the gloom within which the group have worked over their last few releases is much more emphasized here. Immediate predecessor Epitaph demonstrated the emotional turbulence of grief, and while Ghost Tapes #10 is equally cathartic, it’s expressed quite differently. There is more hopefulness to this album – exhibited in the wonderful synth melody of “Barren Trees,” one of the band’s most beautiful creations to date, serving as a powerful climax to the record’s melodic journey. “Luminous Waves” closes the album not as an epilogue to that climactic moment, but as a calmer denouement: the listener has passed through darkness, adjusted to the light, and now gets to bathe in it.
It’s not difficult to draw real-world parallels: out of the darkness of recent years comes hope for a brighter future. Setting that aside, God Is An Astronaut truly are kings in the world of post-rock, and Ghost Tapes #10 is an incredible jewel in their well-adorned crown.
Ghost Tapes #10 Track Listing:
3. In Flux
6. Barren Trees
7. Luminous Waves
Run Time: 37:14
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Record Label: Napalm Records