Daniel Land presents In Love with a Ghost which is a sophisticated piece of art that straddles the line of pop and jazzy standards. If you don’t know Daniel Land’s work, you ought to remedy that immediately. He was the former member of Daniel Land & The Modern Painters, and a previous member of bands The Steals and Engineers. He also makes ambient music as Riverrun. Land has noted that much of this album is about the love of and living in cities, the aloneness and navigation of moving to new places, and the fallout for those around you when you fall in love with the wrong person. In terms of his catalog, he is known for his dream-pop, shoegaze, and ambient roots but, on this album, he moves in a different direction, producing what he calls “sophistipop”. I must say that the label is apropos. His compositions are moving and the album cogent. The individual tracks are impressive but, together, they are a larger expression of an artist that is open and honest.
“You and Me Against the Sky” sets the tone of the album, with simple piano structures that are accompanied by weeping guitars and perfectly sparse drums. Land laces the track with a touch of ambience that floats along with his warm vocals. Lyrically, he opens the album with,
I opened the pathway of the heart
To sing a song that goes “You know I need a friend
that won’t betray confidence
Or my love, my love”
You know I need a friend
It’s clear from the start that this album was going to be honest and vulnerable. Land goes on to describe the desire to have an intimate relationship filled with trust and honestly, perhaps longing for something lost here or hoping for future connections. The song has musical touches like a saxophone and subtle layers of sparkling chimes. Even without the lyrics, the track would convey the baring of an artist’s soul, but Land’s lyrics add depth and meaning rather than detract from the emotive music. Another amazing feat on this track is Land takes all the best ingredients of a pop song and turns them into a seven-minute track without wasting a note or losing the listener. “You and Me Against the Sky” gives the listener high expectations for what’s to come and Land delivers.
“Holes on the Dancefloor” is dreamy and more up-tempo than “You and Me Against the Sky”. I feel a bit of Ulrich Schnauss’ influence here in the electronic elements. Again, Land does not abandon his ambient side with beautiful tones floating amid the steady percussion and his engaging vocals. The relational side of the album comes to the floor as Land croons “I wanted to think I needed you. This thing called love.” “Holes in the Dancefloor” blends without a break into “Everyone’s Got a Guy Garvey Story” which, perhaps, is a reference to Guy Garvey of Elbow and a BBC 6 music presenter. Land sings, “The way the guy walks around, he owns this town” and mentions visions of the city in various contexts. This plays into a broader theme of cities and their captivating and unique personalities. This leads to “The Sweetest Lover” which slows down the tempo and brings a dreamy feel to the album.
Then our love came down
I’m your problem now
you’re a star
Loving this stage
this is all brand new
Loving each day
With the sweetest lover that I ever knew
Here, Land is hopefully and full during brand new love. The prospect of the greatness of it all fills the soaring tones in the track.
“New York Boogie-Woogie” is the first single from the album and it is a jazzy piano number. New York is at the center of this piece in a powerful way with Land crooning about his experiences in a city to which he has clearly grown attached. He croons “In love, in love, in love, with the city”. New York has cast its spell on Land and his tribute to the metropolis is graceful and an apt tribute. There are beautiful tones that straddle the line of a shoegaze influence with delicate drowns over high-hat and snare. Smokey sax fills the spaces of the bridge, recalling dark nightclubs filled with nostalgia. “Little City Symphony” follows with an ambient piece that has that same smoky sax floating along on top of the sound scape. Guitars glitter here and there as they accompany the brief piece into the later part of the album.
“Saints with His Mercy” begins with the bass up front, driving the track forward. Guitars and piano dance among the tempo as Land lends a hypnotic vocal which is almost sullen.
Where will I go
Where will I run
The truth will always find you
There is a wandering, unsteadiness to the feel of “Saints with His Mercy”. It has a bit of a world music feel, which reminds me of Peter Gabriel at points. “Whistling Gypsy” has a low, shimming hum over spare drums. An almost alt-country guitar punctuates the composition. Land croons:
You’re so much better than you know
You’re so much better than you know
So dream, dream, dream baby
So dream, dream, dream
In “Saints with His Mercy”, Land seems to be encouraging someone who is under attack from other voices and perhaps their own internal ones. It’s almost like a beautiful love letter asking someone to see themselves through the eyes of someone who values them. The track ends with this gorgeous ambient coda that hums and twinkles with guitars playing under an ambient river.
The title track, “In Love with a Ghost”, is the penultimate track on the disc and begins with dreamy, syncopated guitar and percussion on toms and shakers. Land blends shoegaze and ambient influences here bringing in electronic tones and textures throughout. The bass work here is perfect. About halfway through the track, Land’s vocals appear. They are breathy and wistful, sitting slighting deeper in the mix than other songs, giving “In Love with a Ghost” an otherworldly feel. “The Beautiful Room is Empty” begins without a break from “In Love with a Ghost”. The drones remain while the percussion becomes more expressive and present. There is a hopeful vibe to this track, as Land brings his listener to the end of a remarkable journey. Again, there are sprinkles of Peter Gabriel both in the vocal phrasing and in the choice of percussive moments. The tonal ending of this album leaves the listener with the bright hope that occurs after coming out of a period of diversity and difficulty.
Daniel Land has composed and recorded ten tracks that flow into one another like moments along the path of life with all the love, rejection, and difficulties one experiences. Landmarks, of course, dot the landscape of anyone’s moments and Land’s openness about his experiences among them are refreshing and honest. Daniel Land’s compositions are both accessible and simple, in that perfect pop way, but at the same time express a carefulness that proves Land’s mastery of his craft. Further, his dulcet vocals draw you into his world as he takes you on trips among skyscrapers and through the complicated and messy terrain of relationships.