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Apes, Ghost Games

Album Review


Published February 13, 2008 at 5:11 a.m.


(Gypsy Eyes Records, CD)

Guitars are so lame. Seriously. Think about it: Every band and their mothers have a guitar player. Some have two or three, even. Now think about how many of those bands totally suck. The Eagles had approximately 14 guitarists and they were simply awful. Morphine, on the other hand? Now there was a great band. Just drums, bass guitar, vocals and saxophones. No guitarist. See what I’m getting at?

Guitars are overdone. Cliché. Who needs ’em? Washington, D.C., quartet Apes apparently don’t, and they’re a living testament to the virtue of addition by subtraction. Their new full-length album Ghost Games is a less-is-more tour de force. Featuring bass, organ, drums and vocals, Apes is not your typical “band next door.” And that goes beyond mere instrumentation. This is an art-rock band of the highest order. And all without a single six-string.

The disc’s opening track “Practice Hiding” sets the tone early with black-hearted psychedelia that would scare the hell out of Ozzy Osbourne — although at this point, what doesn’t scare the drug-addled Ozzy? Regardless, the band sets a playfully sinister tone from the outset and doesn’t let up.

Amanda Kleinman’s organ is a whirling dervish of deviant energy from start to finish. Her work on the discordant, fractured and yet curiously sweet pop number “Walk Thru Walls” is exceptional.

Bassist Erick Jackson provides a subtly melodic low end, employing all manner of fuzzy electronic gadgetry. Combined with Kleinman’s devilish organ and Jeff Schmid’s bombastic drum work, the band concocts one hellish cauldron of subversive rock noise.

Ghost Games is the first Apes album featuring the vocal styling of Breck Brunson, who recalls the more schizophrenic work of Talking Heads front man David Byrne, though perhaps in a slightly higher register. Previous incarnations of the group have seen two other vocalists over the course of three prior full-length albums. This is the first Apes record I’ve heard, but it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Brunson fronting the band. His delivery is appropriately dramatic and suits the material perfectly.

Will Ghost Games signal the impending extinction of guitar players? Of course not. I was only kidding about all that . . . sort of. The Eagles really are wretched, their recent country Grammy notwithstanding. But Apes’ latest disc is a brilliant reminder that rock can be about much more than mere guitar wankery. Here in the jam-band republic, that’s a good lesson to remember.

Apes rock The Monkey House this Sunday. Ghost Games hits stores Tuesday. Guitars will be obsolete by Wednesday.

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