The 1980s gets a largely undeserved slating for its musical contributions. After the arrival of synthesizers, a number of bands made good use of the new technology, such as Depeche Mode and New Order, and with bands like U2 and The Smiths emerging, it was a time hardly as bereft of quality as some might have you believe.
Unfortunately though, every silver lining has a cloud, and film soundtracks from the ’80s in particular have not worn well, with over-production and synth saturation now sounding horribly dated. On this note, enter Ghost Beach.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the duo (Josh Ocean on vocals and Eric ‘Doc’ Mendelsohn on most other things) describe their sound as “tropical grit pop”, and whilst there is an occasionally tropical feel to their synth-heavy pop, it’s unclear as to where the grit exists.
The pair have already caused a stir when given access to a huge Times Square billboard. Instead of plugging themselves, they launched a debate surrounding piracy, ‘Artists vs. Artists’. They had been releasing their music for free over the internet, an approach they hoped would lead to more sales, before their track Miracle from October 2012’s debut EP Modern Tongues was selected by retailer American Eagle for an online advertisement, with usage of the billboard being part of the deal.
The song itself features funky, dated guitar alongside Ocean’s often overly strained vocal style. “Like a miracle, I’m in love again”, he squawks. But truthfully it will be a miracle if it achieves multiple plays. The entire tracklist from the EP is included here; it’s more of the same for the aptly named, over glossy Been There Before, and Tear Us Apart suffers from pain-bearing vocal strains again, interspersed with anthemic ambitions dappled with The Police-like guitar flicks, although it’s certainly more catchy than others.
Faded and album closer Too Young also appeared on the EP, and both tracks suffer from another dreaded ’80s fad – over-elaborate remixing. Faded is a slower effort with stuttering remixed vocals and the latter is screaming ‘samey’ throughout its Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Something likeness by the time it arrives, but thankfully the vocals are better – until crazy remixing interferes anyway.
The similarities between Blonde and those cheesy ’80s soundtracks are clear from inclusions such as opening track Moon Over Japan, a ‘big hair’ moment of synth swathes and over-production that recalls Owen Paul’s My Favourite Waste Of Time. Close Enough is another culprit; sampled vocals appear like another cheesetastic remix, with funky guitar touches adding some of Prince’s forte to proceedings but ultimately falling short of anything The Purple One produced. Every Time We Touch borrows from Cher ‘s Believe school of vocal distortion between more Prince-like guitar, whilst Without You brings a reggae feel to the album. But that’s reggae akin to 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday.
There’s a Lionel Richie, Dancing On The Ceiling vibe about Empty Streets, but First Time sounds like a completely different band, a track that stands head and shoulders above all else on offer. A funky guitar line sits alongside a bubbly synth attack during some decent guitaring, melodies and overall mix.
Some things are best left alone, and that can probably be said of the direction Ghost Beach take with their debut LP – the side of the ’80s that justifiably cause people to look back at with scorn. There are glimpses of something worthwhile within, and Ocean’s vocals sound rather good when reined in and not subject to distortion. Ultimately though, Blonde is an album for those that miss gaudy nightclubs, huge hairstyles and nostalgia, but not much more.