If you’re one of the many children of the 21st century who have completely emasculated their attention spans and now find themselves incapable of dedicating more than thirty seconds to reading a review and digesting an idea, let me break down Mad Planet’s debut LP Ghost Notes in as simple of terms as I can.
The band sounds like Heart and Blondie’s love child, conceived via in vitro fertilization by shoegaze, and raised across the street from a cemetery where it spent its formative years playing alone amongst the head stones, wondering where lovers go after they die.
There. Check out the album and go on about your blissfully ignorant lives.
My god, people today. They live like hummingbirds, furtively buzzing between things in a masquerade of busyness that serves to hide the fact that the deepest interaction they have with the world is when they stop to get beak-deep in some nectar.
These are the intellectual children of our times. They scorn complexity because what’s the point of investing time and effort in understanding something multi-faceted when you can just enjoy something simple?
So here we are.
I could pitch the intricate ideas and sounds at work in Mad Planet. I could mention that front-woman Cooper Gillespie’s thunderbird bass and shiny gold leotard is one of the boldest on-stage outfits parading through the LA scene today. I could compare drummer Greg Gordon’s drumming to a metronome or just call him metronomic because I’m an obtuse asshole.
I could state with great conviction that guitarist Tony Crouse’s fine pedigree harkens back to the phrasing and funky touches that made the Chili Peppers’ early work so vital. Or that Emily Alfstad kicks out a wall of synth that anchors everything into a space that is huge and cosmic.
If these layers of nuance aren’t your bag, let’s stick with the fact that Mad Planet is killing it right now. But locked in that inherent complexity is the true ore of what makes the LA based quartet such an intriguing find.
Ghost Notes is a love story. The universal yarn of empathy and compassion has been handled by every musician since cavemen first made melodies with discarded yak bones. Relationship music is a thematic genre prone to two-dimensional treatments and rife with clichés.
Mad Planet’s haunting, post-mortem love triumphs in the remarkably keen and fresh palette of colors with which it paints the full breadth of love. Notes of funk and disco and early psychedelic rock merge in a rolling wave of sound that manages to embrace the melodic, the punchy, the heavy and the heavenly in under forty minutes of track time.
The album opens with Crouse’s heavy guitar wash mushrooming atop Gillespie’s ever-present bottom-end roar and a Pixies-alluding riff that accompanies the album keynote: “why does love demand everything?”
From there, the vulgar, sensual effusions of the orgasmic, two-stepping “Inside Outburst” bleed into a slice of egomaniacal neo-disco “Let It Begin.” The two take cues from the dark freshness of a new relationship as rhythm and melody first merge awkwardly into a sensual, if jarring union that forms the spine of the album.
Here we enter the meat of the relationship. It’s that familiar place in the life of a couple where excitement and contentment vie for prominence. Love is strongest in these three songs. Whether it be the electric, dopamine high of “The Unknown” and its churning bass line, Gillespie’s suddenly angelic timbre on “Run to The Sea,” or the blinded lyric devotional that is “I Want You,” the three tracks capture the band in-sync.
By no coincidence, the middle is the most balanced, soothing and introspective act in the album. It has the feeling not only of a lover’s gaze, but that warm intimacy shared by a band functioning at its height in lock step with Gordon’s kick and Crouse’s hypnotic noodling.
But, as Gillespie puts so eloquently, “Love is an outlaw…a real outlaw.” Yeah, that’s about right. If there were ever an apt testament to the law of entropy, love, and the inevitable dissolution/evolution of feelings, it would be the final three songs of Ghost Notes.
“The Outlaw” is a strange conglomeration of almost mystic percussion and lofty orchestration amidst a rock setting that feels like that awful, instinctive pull you sometimes feel at the end of love where the world seems to be communicating its unilateral disdain for the stasis of your life.
The distant and sorrow-laced vocals of “Two of Us” present a growing chasm. Stringy guitars bridge the diverging lines of bass and drums that play against each other like a zipper being undone. We’re left with the drawn-out, neo-natal imagery of the song’s final moments, “I washed ashore on the cold sand, far from home.”
Then the evitable, halcyon album closer “Slowly I Turn,” where the album ends with inversion. Energy drained and emotions unsure, the coda disembarks at a far different place from where its journey began.
It’s powerful shit. The narrative and strong instrumental interplay is the only consistent element we’re left to hang on to as the band’s rich, sonic landscapes change with a sharp, organic regularity that could only be rivaled by a chameleon walking over a swath of wrapping paper samples.
Mad Planet has a remarkably captivating ability to vacillate like a fickle change of heart. They tread a thin line between endurance and vulnerability, and resilience and sensitivity. Bringing those abstractions to bear with such force and conviction is worthy of hefty praise.
Ghost Notes resonates so strongly perhaps because there is an unimaginable quantity of broken hearts out there and no two are exactly alike. Appreciating this conundrum requires an acknowledgement of the complex dimensions of love itself and the understanding that to do justice to the experience in any creative form is to open oneself to any number of heart-wrenching impulses.