Through my stay here on the ChipWIN Blog, I’ve written many album reviews about a handful of talented musicians, and thus a plethora of eclectic coverage has emerged. Through this journey, where I once started as a novice but passionate listener, I feel pretty confident in my ability to decipher the thoughts in my head as to why I think something sounds great. While I am not a classically trained musician, or studied music theory, or even identify as a musician (…yet), I have become much more constructive when I listen to an album. Leading up to this very album review today, I tend to gravitate toward releases that satisfy a minimum of three requirements: Personality, Composition, and Mixing—and I can very confidently say that these very three things are ubiquitous throughout ‘Ghost Stories’, Together We Are Robots’ first studio album released through Bandcamp on March 11, 2015.
Hailing from Calgary, Canada, TWAR cult leader, ghost whisperer and frontman Mike Ackman has spent the last 7 years residing in San Francisco. Formerly known as XOMBIE, Ackman has been a pivotal source to the California chipmusic communities 8bitSF and 8bitLA through his performances and passion for the growth and development of these sister groups. Roughly two years in the making, ‘Ghost Stories’ is a culmination of dark, chipfolk rock tracks sprinkled with ‘Lovecraftian horror, whiskey, and violence’, and a nice hello to the ghosts that live* in his old San Francisco apartment (*and probably still live in despite his move back to Calgary). As Ackman explains that “we are all haunted—by our pasts, our futures, our thoughts and anxieties”, ‘Ghost Stories’ is truly a release beyond what words can explain.
Produced by Morgan Tucker (of crashfaster, Everything Goes Cold, and Striplicker fame) for Monobomb Records, engineered by Sean Paulson of Different Fur Records, and mastered by Hans DeKline of Sound Bites Dog of Los Angeles, this album warranted powerful and incredible musical appearances of many musicians. Graced by accompanying vocals of Keiko Takamura (crashfaster) and Matt Stewart, TWAR drummer Devin Nixon (who is seriously in every California chipmusic band), Nate Levin on bass, Unwoman on cello, Ryan Case (crashfaster) on accordion, and Patrick Trinh (Space Town Savior) on piano, this 30-minute album is stacked with nine incredible tracks that soothe my ache for sea shanties, imaginary voyages alongside Cthulhu, and my eventual (you called it) spiral of madness.
The album begins with the beautifully composed (and thoughtfully titled) title track, which eerily sounds as if the ghost of Tom Waits has found his home in Ackman’s vocal chords. Very interestingly, however, is the emphasis on the orchestral element of the song, and less about the presence of the Gameboy. As this not only is an intentional artistic choice when this album was being recorded, it further solidifies the fact that a Gameboy doesn’t have to be a standalone instrument in order for an incredible album to be produced. Ghost Stories, when paired with the album’s concluding track Welcome Home (Reprise), begins and concludes the thoughtfully entwined narrative in an attempt of ‘setting (Mike’s) ghosts free’.
Boneshaker, TWAR’s fourth track of the album, is very reminiscent to a straight up full-punk track guaranteed to start a pit. While the track title itself is ‘punk as fuck’, I will admit that it will thoroughly mess with your insides. Even when played live with just the presence of Ackman’s acoustic guitar and Nixon’s powerhouse of a drumset, this song is one of my favorites. While I feel this track possesses the most character, it’s an incredible transition to Red Eyes’ Waltz, the seventh track on ‘Ghost Stories’. One of the slower tracks of this album, Red Eyes’ Waltz very noticeably has different tonality, compositional structure and features the Gameboy much more than any other track on the album and Case’s accordion for the first time. Very successfully, this track is written as sea shanty, and creates the feeling that the audience is on a sailing vessel and working in unison with one another as they’re aboard the treacherous seas.
I highly recommend purchasing this release, as its price—$6— should be no excuse to let this album go unnoticed. ‘Ghost Stories’ is a culmination of thoughtfully written, composed, recorded and executed tracks that I strongly feel is on par with the current top-hitting releases in chipmusic. With that said, it was with great honour (spoken like a true Canadian) to have been able to write this review, and I am very much looking forward to what Together We Are Robots has in store for the future.
Let’s get spoopy, y’all—Professor Oakes signing off!