Ghost King – “Dunbar Swamp” – Album REVIEW

The moment a person decides to create something there’s a small wave of unadulterated artistry that takes over. It’s no coincidence a child learns to draw before learning to write. However, after the decision is made, the next move is make-or-break. In that unexplainable moment, the child who draws a stick figure decides if they’re the artist who will paint the next Mona Lisa. This is why sophomore albums are generally the most interesting in an artist’s repertoire. The prime example of this theory is Dunbar Swamp, the second album from Ghost King.

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When Ghost King frontman Carter McNeil moved back to his home city of New York with intentions on pursuing music, he found himself playing drums in Spires. Despite working in music and playing shows, the gig wasn’t satisfying his itch for creativity. Like the aforementioned child learning to draw before speaking, McNeil tried his hand at songwriting and eventually wrote and recorded what would become Ghost King’s first album Bones.

Now with additional members and experience, Ghost King’s sophomore album sees more focus, layers, and poise. Dunbar Swamp isn’t a sequel to the first album but a sonic expansion going beyond what may or may not have been their intent.

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The opening track “Get Stoned” begins the album with jangly guitars and surf-rock hooks that wouldn’t be out of place on a Wavves record. But interestingly enough, it’s almost a false sense of security. Not long after that track finishes, things get abruptly darker and experimental. “Slither” builds tension with it’s shift in tone and by the time “Labyrinth” starts, straight up psychedelica takes full control.

It’s within these plot twists where the appeal of Ghost King is showcased. On the surface, the listener is lead to believe Dunbar Swamp is a garage romp, but beneath the fuzz is an underlying layer of uncertainty. It’s like hitching a ride to the mall but the driver takes you to a forest preserve on the other end of town.  However, not every twist is a scary one. There are glimmers of cross-eyed beauty like the track “Footsteps” and unexpected vulnerability as featured in “Bloody Like A Rabbit”. By the time the album finishes, Ghost King is a much different band than who started it. Perhaps the listener is too?

Dunbar Swamp has been released through Mind Altar Records. As the label’s second release, (I covered the first release, Honduras early last year) Mind Altar has already proven themselves as one of the most interesting labels in the indie community. Available in a few different variants ranging from gorgeous to otherworldly, Dunbar Swamp is just as beautiful on the turntable as it is in your ears. We may only be two months into the new year, but Ghost King and Mind Altar has already given us a strong contender for album of the year.

To purchase Ghost King’s Dunbar Swamp on vinyl, please visit Mind Altar Records


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Aaron The Audiophile

Son, brother, uncle, musician. I enjoy music of all genres, shapes and sizes, preferably the good kind.

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