Ghostkeeper’s 2010 self-titled second album is a timeless wild run of snarling guitar riffs and zig-zagging melodies that’s as playful and fun as it is experimental and esoteric.
Time has been good to Ghostkeeper and their music. Theirs is a fiery brand of re-contextualized rock ‘n’ roll that answers some intriguing what-if questions: What if the blues originated in Northern Alberta instead of the American South? What if 60s girl-group melodies evolved from indigenous pow-wow music? What if the white music industry wasn’t so obsessed with colonizing music categorization and recognized the work of indigenous musicians as being far more diverse than anything lumped into that god-awful “world music” genre?
All what-ifs aside, what is most compelling about Ghostkeeper’s 2010 self-titled second album — and continues to be compelling in their subsequent releases — is its timelessness. At the time of Ghostkeeper’s release, the Globe & Mail’s Robert Everett-Green described the band as “Lead Belly turned Métis trickster”, noting their unconventional and unpredictable songwriting style. At a time when a vast majority of new music was being made on computer monitors and with mouse clicks, Ghostkeeper’s 2010 line-up (Jay Crocker, Sarah Houle, Shane Ghostkeeper, and Scott Munro) were recording the songs on their eponymous albumin public staircases and warehouses with vintage analogue tape machines and cutting and splicing their songs together by hand. Old-school, yes, but far from old-fashioned. Ghostkeeper is a wild run of snarling guitar riffs, rip-roaring rhythms, and zig-zagging melodies that’s as playful and fun as it is experimental and esoteric.
“Tea and Cree Talking” is a stripped-down bluesy conversation between musical and ancestral traditions, punctuated by pearly piano notes. “By Morning” is a lo-fi treat featuring Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle’s effortless harmonies. Though they hint at their penchant for stylistic shifts on “By Morning”, it’s third track “Don’t Come Knocking” that takes the first of the album’s many psychedelic detours with its deliciously raucous intro. From this perfect triptych of opening tracks, Ghostkeeper consummates their complex and combustive marriage of bluesy pop and noisy, nervous rock.
It doesn’t take long to realize that where Ghostkeeper’s songs start is not where they’re going to end; and if they do happen to end up in the same spot, they take a number of detours along the way. Starting with some heavy metal undertones, “Well, Well, Well” catches a massive surf-pop wave that comes crashing into a wall of wailing punk guitars before getting out there to do it all over again. Even when it feels like they’ve eschewed traditional pop/rock song structure altogether on closer “Spring Fever”, Ghostkeeper manages to make melodious noise. In 2017, writing about their fourth record, Sheer Blouse Buffalo Knocks, I commented that Ghostkeeper’s “disparate musical elements form an unparalleled and formidable combination.” Upon revisiting Ghostkeeper, it’s clear that that unique skill and talent has only grown more sophisticated and refined with each release.