Title: Music to get puppies to sleep
Artist: Ghosts of Electricity
3.5/5 stars
Released: 03/07/17
Reviewed by: ALEX LYALL


There’s a lyrical passage on A Trip to Home World Stadium, the fourth track from the new album by Auckland band Ghosts of Electricity, that talks about the rabid jealously of Auckland by non-Aucklanders.

It’s this regional rivalry that partially defines Music to get puppies to sleep, an album startling in its frankness and its unsuppressed use of the Kiwi accent. On Beer Castle, the band slam the South Island specifically for its inability to grow feijoas (not true by the way, I have a feijoa tree in the backyard of my Christchurch flat) and on Times Aren’t Changing, the band criticise friends for moving out of Auckland to Waikato.

It’s easy to be enraged by the irony of this all. Here’s a band who are very inheriting of the unashamedly Kiwi-accented Dunedin Sound in the 1980s, yet here they are ripping on the places that created it.

But that’s exactly it – Ghosts of Electricity aren’t here to offer more of the same; their ethos is to make music that is challenging and uncomfortable, even to people who are used to music as bizarre as this.

The most obvious way in which the band make us feel uneasy is through the vocals. When they’re not sneering, they’re rambling. They take their talking-singing style beyond what even bands like Slint or Ought manage, using it far more than usual for a post-rock band.

What’s more, frontman Tim Fowler sounds meaner and nastier than any of those guys and the fusion of the signing-talking style and the accent proves to be extremely striking. Only because that confrontational style of singing is not ever heard in our accent. It seems alien when it’s done overseas in a North American accent, but when it’s like this it sounds like your crazy neighbour telling you off.    

Music to get puppies to sleep is an album that aims to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible and for this reason needs to be celebrated. It’s memorable and plays against what’s popular in New Zealand music right now. The album’s uniqueness, though, goes beyond the vocals and is an album with musical quirks all over.

In that sense, it’s a great post-punk/post-rock album, with strange noises fluttering throughout Cultural Show that show off its extra low bass and its sporadic heaviness. Stay At Home is filled with church noises – a men’s choir and an organ. Then on Horizontal we get gangly horns and percussion. Ghosts of Electricity make music that matches their weirdness.

Although Music to get puppies to sleep is worthwhile for how well it wears its weird skin, it unfortunately it does it too well in some songs. Several tracks towards the end of the album –whose names won’t be repeated here – suffer from sounding overly obnoxious, even if they are supposed to be ironic.

It’ll be interesting to see how far Ghosts of Electricity get. They are a good band who are doing really interesting things – but that greatest asset could also be their greatest liability.