Upon first listening, Sans Arc‘s split ep Ghostlike (containing 5 new songs and their previous EP, A Remote View on one CD leaves the indiscriminating listener a little underwhelmed. To the untrained ear used to glossy Top 40 drivel, Ghostlike sounds like a meandering and muddled work with slow-moving songs and buried vocals. Yet, upon repeated listens, Sans Arc rewards the listener with a surprisingly well-executed statement of space-drone-dream music. Delicately, gradually, but persuasively, Ghostlike wins over the listener in an almost subconscious way.
“Ghostlike” is a study in mood over structure, and atmosphere over song. With long and almost improvisational jams of guitars and sparse electronics, Sans Arc creates a sonic tapestry that would be fitting as the soundtrack of an extended daydream. Moody, brooding male vocals show up sparingly, as on “A Remote View”, but the vocals never quite take centre stage on any of the tracks. In fact, I’ll be darned to figure out what the vocalist is even singing about in the first place! Permeating through the haze are fractured loops that haunt the listener as much as the loosely-structured melodies. Ghostlike is a hypnotic recording with its contemplative arrangements and other-worldly musical fog.
To these ears, there seems to be no division between the tracks that comprise the previous EP A Remote View, and the five newer songs. All ten tracks have a cohesion to them, sounding like they were all recorded at one time. While the fact that the tracks on Ghostlike all sound similar may be curious for the listener who wonders what progression that band made in the interval between recordings, the cohesion provides an excellent flow for the listener.
Taking tracks as individual units, one notes a logical approach to the songs that give them some semblance of structure. Witness, for instance, the buzzing and whirring of multiple guitars on “Divided by Darkness”, only to have the guitars fade into a strumming acoustic guitar while a lone voice croons. Or, the moody keys and sounds that characterize “Ocean Grey” that slowly build to the song’s climax. Indeed, the music of Sans Arc contains a lot of detail, both in the loose melodies and the walls of sound, that give the songs a sense of direction. And it is this sense of direction that puts Ghostlike a step ahead of many of the other space-rock bands in the scene, and gives their music that ethereal quality that makes you feel you’ve heard this music in your dreams.
Therefore, though sounding at first like an uninspired attempt at dronology + dream-pop laced with a hint of slowcore and glitch, Ghostlike dazzles the listener. Taking cues from such variant sources like Windy and Carl, Flying Saucer Attack, Sappington, and Goldenwest-era Ester Drang, Sans Arcfashion a multidimensional aura of sonic bliss. Ghostlike will definitely be an oft-repeated listen for me.