Just A Ghost
Hangman Ho Records
In a world where much of the music we come into contact with is homogenized corporate mulch that lacks any discernible human input, those artists who offers us personal and intimate truths are to be cherished. I am a Man with a St Tropez Tan is one such artist.
Offering compositions that are uncompromising and mined from his own personal experience, the EP Just a Ghost is both sinister and powerful. The work of Rick Senley, it is the product of a varied past and a fascinating history. Film actor, journalist, award winning photographer, teacher and novelist, Senley is someone of many talents who has traveled widely. Unfortunately this trajectory was brutally interrupted when, injured in an accident, he was left unable to walk — a tragedy that was further compounded by the death of a loved one. Housebound and struggling to cope with his loss, he developed what he describes as a “growing fondness for booze and chemicals”. It was whilst suffering beneath this relentless rain of terrible setbacks that Rick discovered he liked making electronic music, and it is from this interest — and its interaction with those successes and setbacks in his life — that Just a Ghost comes. As his website says: “I Am A Man With A St Tropez Tan is Rick Senley and sounds”, and in a way, is a perfect description of this intimate set of recordings.
Just A Ghost is made up of tormented cacophonies of loops and melodies that have been made dirty and dark, and of machine beats and repetitive synths that are allowed to break their digital straitjackets to distort and crackle. This is music as pure expression, denying virtuosity in the traditional sense. With its screams and pulses, Just A Ghost is not an easy listen, but if one commits to the experience, the rewards are there.
The opening track, “There Is No Death”, begins with an aged sample of a psychic medium communicating with her audience, before sliding strings poke and scratch through an awkwardly mournful melody. This lament is soon overcome by the echoing wah of a tuneless and distorted guitar — a section that is also eventually overcome by rapid and nervy drums and bass. The strings make one final reappearance — a kind of miniature coda — before the sampled psychic medium challenges us one last time with the accusation that “something in your life is ridiculous”.
“Tea For Me 8” is a circular and circulating mixture of bells and fanfares, that becomes lost beneath a layer of digitally distorted clipping before resolving itself in a charming melody of balalaikas and bells. This is followed by the dark, acidic and disturbing “Please Be Careful What You Do With Yourself”, in which all the nightmares of the subterranean city seem to rise to the surface.
I AM A MAN WITH A ST TROPEZ TAN – JUST A GHOST ALBUM REVIEW CONTINUES BELOW
Senley references The Chemical Brothers, Robert Smith and Depeche Mode on his website, but in truth, these influences are buried beneath layers of musique concrète to the point where they become not only indecipherable but invisible. There are moments reminiscent of Pierre Henry’s “Tam Tam” and “Astrology” and “Pareil a un voyageur perdu” by Francis Dhomont to be found on this short EP, though in Senley’s output there is more anger and personal angst to be found. Having said that, Just A Ghost does follow Schaeffer’s criteria for musique concrète by adhering to and understanding the necessity of jeu in the production of his music. It is this jeu (a French word meaning play or game in English) that lies at the heart of any successful piece of musique concrète. Senley enjoys himself and interacts with his surroundings, be they through found sound or recorded and looped instruments, and in doing so, he plays them as one might musical instruments.
In spite of the experimental pedigree of this collection of recordings, there are, however, moments when the production gets in the way of the listening experience. Although I understand that digital clipping is, in these days of glitch, as acceptable as tape saturation and distortion as a means of manipulating sound, it can become a little aurally tiring when overused, and this is the case in some sections of the release. Having said that, this is a fine EP that, in its creative intensity, is worth a listen by anyone interested in music that is challenging, personal, and goes further than most.