Common descriptions for Ghostland Observatory include “electro-dance rock,” “synth-funk” and “Freddie Mercury-helms-Daft Punk.”
Less-common descriptions include:
• The Onion: “Ghostland Observatory frontman Aaron Behrens could strut around stage for an hour to the ‘Labyrinth’ soundtrack and it would still be worth paying $25 to see.”
• Pop Matters: “Sometimes they pull off cool effects: cowbell hitting inside the echoey concrete shell of a public bathroom.”
• Pitchfork: “ ‘Codename Rondo’ sounds like two people doing the least amount of work possible before something can be considered a ‘song.’ ”
The fourth and latest release by Ghostland Observatory, “Codename Rondo” goes for maximized minimalism, stripping down the throbbing beats, spaced-out synths and oddball lyrics.
There isn’t much in the way of song dynamics beyond those three elements, in what’s largely a departure from the build-ups, tear-downs and fakeouts from the first three albums.
And yet, with its sparse arrangements, the 10-track album manages to exhibit the wide-ranging influences channeled by singer/guitarist Aaron Behrens and producer/drummer/ keyboardist Thomas Ross Turner.
The Austin, Texas, duo reaches in disparate directions, from The Cars, Prince and ZZ Top to Queen, DJ Shadow and George Michael, touching on genres such as psychedelia, rock, country and blues – sometimes all in the same song – while retaining raw compositions joined with space-age studio polish.
Amid the filtered synthesizer beams, there are nuggets of the obscure – some of which the band describes in its bio as “deep space satellite transmissions, a robot with the hiccups and poor phone reception attempting to leave a voice message.”
Meanwhile, the lyrics mutate from low-density rap-singing to twisted spoken-word monologues.
On the title track, Behrens sends one of his goons out for a Slurpee, which is his code for a suicide. Conversely, “Body Shop” is little more than a laser-ray looped over a beat while Behrens lays a string of sexual suggestions, in a car metaphor, through a vocoder voice effect – which is used liberally throughout the record.
“Kick Clap Speaker” switches things up a bit by replacing the vocoder with an ’80s-era Speak & Spell. After a bony instrumental intro, the Speak & Spell cuts in and states the three words that make up the song’s lyrics – “kick, clap, speaker” – 45 times. That’s the whole song.
Aside from the self-explanatory “Mama,” “Codename Rondo” rarely deviates from the electro, big beat and rock ’n’ roll simplicity the band set out to create.
But regardless of the tightly framed talk-box, innuendo and minimalist tethers on the album, Ghostland Observatory captures an aural bigness in its live performance that is known for maximum impact – even when relying on a relatively small sound.