Review: Sanders Bohlke’s Ghost Boy

Sanders Bohlke has gone through a musical evolution over the last several years.  Or maybe in some respects, a musical revolution. Gone are the simple singer/songwriter endeavors of a man with an honest heart and acoustic guitar. Those elements remain, but have transformed into something imaginative and layered.

Most music these days is simply relegated as background noise for whatever activity in which we engage ourselves. I admit to doing it several times with several fantastic and monumental albums. Do yourself a favor and really listen to this record in whatever format you purchase it whether that be digital, CD or LP. Turn off some lights, put your headphones on and just let it all wash over you.

Now that I have finished my soapbox…onto the music.

The album opens with the beautifully accomplished “Pharoah,” a track that invokes a Fleet Foxes-esque a cappella first verse and superb visual imagery, speaking of “crying eyes in the cemetery breeze.” Then, the distorted electric guitar, haunting vocalizations, drums and bass overpower you, segueing perfectly into the title track and lead single.  “Ghost Boy” is easily digested in terms of its piano and bass-laden hooks with “ohs” following the notes of the piano. Juxtaposing the transparency of a ghost with writings in permanent black pens, the track rings out as something fresh and new for the singer’s repertoire. It ends with more ambience than when it first began with synths and keys filling out the space.

“We were best friends / Watching the lights explode / And then you give me your hand / And away we go” kick off the third track (“Lights Explode”), which also speaks of wasting time complemented by a slow burning musical number. Hints of regrets saturate the lyrics along with piano and acoustic guitar to create a pensive sonic atmosphere. “The Loved Ones” revisits Bohlke’s acoustic roots with multiple harmonies and double tracking to give it a sense of ambience. The guitar delivers a simple arpeggio while Bohlke talks of days staying sweet and the steady heartbeat of another keeping the good in him. The multiple vocals are chilling, yet comforting all at the same time with the song growing louder and more forceful with each verse and chorus.

SandersBohlke-2013-02“Atlas” begins with an array of synths and keyboard effects that is haunting and anticipatory.  Its short length allows it to segue into “Serious,” an upbeat acoustic-driven tune with lines like “If you’re serious / I’ll be serious too / I’ll rip your heart out / Like you want me to.” The repetition of the lyrics is quite poetic, offering solace from the narrator to the other character in the song all the while questioning what exactly they want. The musical elements are transcendent with synth, drums and acoustic guitar, ending appropriately abrupt.

The song with my favorite title (“An Unkindness of Ravens”) follows next, a simple acoustic number that discusses the emotions of God, who cries and weeps at the gnashing of teeth and destruction. A well-placed piano adds to the nervousness of the song which also describes the descent of darkness upon the earth. The drums come in softly followed by a dominant electric guitar and if I’m not mistaken, a tambourine.  Bohlke repeats the cries of God as the ravens in the song descend. “Across The Atlantic” starts off beautifully with Bohlke’s falsetto in full force.  A juxtaposition to the previous track, the narrator asks for God to be “kind” and to be “light.” The strings and piano complement the song extremely well pulling at the listener’s heart in an emotive and undeniable way. Bohlke speaks of traveling the Atlantic in an unexpected journey hoping for peace in the journey.

“Long Year” visits nostalgia in the deepest sense, speaking of being the same as when he was eighteen, but being more “good inside.”  The acoustic guitar and strings help deliver the restlessness and exhaustion from a “long year” and “falling apart in your heart.”  The song is incredibly somber and both lyrics and music reinforce this emotion. By now, Bohlke’s familiar “oohs” and “ohs” permeate the track, adding a vast emotional appeal. The tenth track, “My Baby,” is a description of a good woman that Bohlke has found despite his many mistakes. The acoustic guitar is also a prominent element of this song, driving home the simple point in the beginning that Bohlke is a good man as well.  Then, the full band comes in with a hard-hitting display of musical prowess before returning to the simple acoustic arrangement that ends the song.

Banjo starts off the final track of the album, “Death Is Like A Beating Drum.”  The song goes on like a cautionary folk tale, but also contains elements of a love song.  It remains haunting throughout, but oddly comforting at the same time.

Ghost Boy presents a man who has struggled, yet seems to persevere throughout the obstacles of life.  A well-seasoned musician who has undergone such change demands your attention and you will be much better for taking the time to listen.

For more information on Sanders Bohlke, visit sandersbohlke.com.

About Chris K. Davidson

Chris K. Davidson is a contributing writer for You Hear This. He has written for Birmingham Box Set, AL.com, among others.

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