Matt Stevens Ghost- 2010
RMR Album Rating- 5
It is amazing that Matt Stevens can generate such a massive wall of textured and layered sound using just one instrument.
Matt Stevens’ album Ghost is not only a solo record, but it is also a solo instrument record (the guitar), and it has no vocals. The entire album is performed with just Stevens’ guitar and some slight percussion on some songs performed by Stuart Marshall. Based on that description, one might assume that the sound of the album would be quite simple; however, the sound of the album is anything but simple, and it sounds like there are multiple guitarists all playing at once. Matt Stevens is able to create this effect using looping and sampling techniques, which he has clearly mastered.
Stevens performs this looping technique by laying down a chord progression and recording it into a pedal— like an instant sampler. He then overdubs on that to build up the layers. The most amazing part is that he does it in real-time as he is playing, so everything can be played and recreated in a live setting.
It is important to note that looping and sampling techniques are not new. Studio looping techniques were first used in the early sixties and they were put to use by many bands. The most famous early looped track might be The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” (click here to listen to Tomorrow Never Knows). However, these were all done in the studio, and it would have been impossible to produce them in a real-time live setting. The first real step in live looping techniques was pioneered by Robert Fripp of King Crimson, and he coined his technique “Frippertronics.” Frippertronics enabled Fripp to perform loops in a live, real-time setting, and Matt Stevens uses the same technique on Ghost.
Like I mentioned, the sound of Ghost is anything but simple, and Stevens uses his looping techniques to add a plethora of time signature changes, pace variations, and layers upon layers of textured guitar sounds, which give the record a progressive rock sound. The sound would be quite astounding for a full band, so it makes it even more impressive coming from just a single guitar player. Each track is also very unique and diverse, so the songs are easily distinguishable from one another, and the album steers clear of the monotonous plague of repetitious songs that so many instrumental albums fall into.
As for the songs, the highlight for me is definitely “Big Sky.” The song is one of the faster paced songs on the album, but it has loads of pace changes throughout the track to keep it interesting. It also builds up in crescendo throughout the song, adding layer upon layer of looped guitars before it finally climaxes with everything played on top of each other for the last minute (Click here to listen to Big Sky, and really pay attention at about the 4:45 mark in the song).
“Draw” is another standout. It features percussion throughout the whole song, as well as Stevens’ guitar, and like “Big Sky,” the last minute of the song is really the highlight where all the layered guitars are stacked on top of each other. (Click here to listen to Draw)
There’s also “8.19.” Although it doesn’t have the jaw dropping, looping climaxes that “Big Sky” and “Draw” have, the sound is so layered that it gives the effect that an entire band is playing and not just Stevens. (click here to listen to 8.19)
Every other song is excellent as well, and as I mentioned, they all have distinguishing features that make them unique and prevent the album from sounding monotonous, which so many instrumental albums do. Overall, Ghost is an impressive and memorable record.
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