A Wrecking by Snow Ghosts is an album that tells the moody tale of souls lost (and found) at sea.
A Wrecking is also a hydra – with many different faces to show – while remaining a unified beast of fantastic scope. It is a soundscape, lush with climate and intent. It is an exploration of eras and aural symbolism. It is also folksong and electronica, happily married into musical mutualism. Despite all this complexity, there are moments of crisp simplicity to rest in, and plenty of tracks with remarkably danceable beats.
The album has a carefully calculated progression of mood, tempo, and storytelling. It begins with “A Wrecking – Part I”, a track that uses sound effects to introduce the listener to the visceral elements of a shipwreck – crashing waves, a wind whirring by, the impersonal drips of water echoing in some cavernous space. These elements blend into electric tones, indistinct vocalizations, and dark piano. A violin bends its bow to the work and suddenly a melody manifests, along with a steady rhythm that is not unlike the scream of an emergency bell.
This bell-kissed tone segues into an electric guitar klaxon in “Held the Light”, with pulses of shrieking sound creating an instantaneous horror film atmosphere. As the song progresses a violin plaintively begins a tune with all the throat of forlorn Euro-folksong. A piano plods alongside the notes, waiting for vocalist Augustus Ghost/Hannah Cartwright to add her raspy, dirge-like vocals. The result is surprising but elegant, evoking both the horror of death and the ancient human ache of mourning.
A Wrecking is rich with wonders. Though there is an unusual fluidity of form within the songs collected here, and the shape of a song on the album may distort, it will always retain a certain consistency – a musical genetic identity. Often the rhythms help carry the storytelling torch from track to track, but atmosphere is the key factor here.
Many of the tracks use tone to imply a haunting – either the haunting obsessions of all those involved in tragedies (“Lament”), or a more traditional haunting (“The Wreck”, “Angry Seas”). “A Wrecking – Part II” returns to the dripping hollow the listener visited earlier, transfigures itself, and becomes a hiss of static, pulsing and building in volume as if to menace, then abruptly dispersing into nothingness like a ghost itself.
Mimicking the connective nature of the human brain, the songs refuse to stay locked neatly within any one era or genre. “The Fleet”, perhaps the most dance-forward of all the tracks, uses contemporary rapid synth pulses to signify the desperate nature of searching for shipwreck survivors. “On Knives” includes a buzzing drone reminiscent of a 70s space flick, while folksong is scattered throughout the album (“Take A Life”, “Lament”). “Circles Out of Salt” uses low electronic tones that suggest both traditional church organs and the New Age*, which progress into an increasingly typical pop song structure rich with hints of sad 90s solemnity and bloated 80s dance blares. Despite the free form, there is no freefall; each decision fits beautifully within the emotional logic of each song.
This album has few flaws – the artists experiment, frequently to exceptional results. “Lament” is particularly well-crafted, with the vocals of the singer moving across the speakers restlessly, symbolically in step with the perpetual restlessness of all those left behind who still search for lost loved ones. Sometimes the shifts within the songs can feel somewhat too abrupt (“Drought”), but sudden changes in weather fit neatly within the theme of the album, and don’t break the inner perfect storm apart.
This is less an album of straightforward messages sent off in bottles and more of mood. To begin this album is to begin opening a very special sort of book, the kind that deserves the precautions of quiet and solitude. Once you start to drift, you may find yourself shipwrecked and unwilling to chart a course home.
- The posted official Youtube music video from the band does not include this complete intro.