Ireland's God Is An Astronaut can always be expected to deliver. They've been leaders of the post-rock movement for almost 20 years now. But has there ever been a better time for a new post-rock album? The pandemic has created a global atmosphere that allows Ghost Tapes #10 to transcend normal music. It's a soundtrack to the unique isolation and loneliness of this era. This immersive, entirely instrumental experience lets the listener project their own feelings onto it, which means everyone will walk away feeling something different. Song titles like “Burial,” “Spectres,” and “Barren Trees” give some indicator of what the band is trying to convey. It’s an accurate picture of the malaise sweeping the world.
What separates GIAA from the average jam group is the textures that are a feature of every release. The keyboards lend a cinematic angle to the songs, adding layers that complement the heavier sections where the guitars and bass take over—it is sure to win Radiohead fans over. It’s hard to tell what sort of vocals could have gone over Ghost Tapes #10. Anything spoken would have detracted from the soundscape the musicians are trying to maintain. Listeners should try to absorb Ghost Tapes in one sitting, with headphones on, out in nature, or walking through city streets—bonus points if it’s raining. It just wouldn’t feel the same in a crowded room.
Though the soundscapes make up the bulk of Ghost Tapes #10, GIAA aren’t above adding some riffs. “Spectres” is the album’s best track. It’s where the band ditch the ambiance and finally put their metal skills to good use. The bass bounces around the mix before exploding into a sludgy riff that will flatten live audiences, fans of heavy and non-heavy music alike.
“In Flux” is where the album stumbles, treading too far into repetition for such a dynamic record. Instrumental bands can have a hard time keeping listeners' engaged, so they can’t afford to lose momentum, especially in the modern world of micro-attention spans. But GIAA know what they are doing, and manage to salvage the song with some tasty distorted guitar chords at the end.
One thing Ghost Tapes #10 is not lacking in is integrity. Selling out is not in front-brothers Niels and Torsten Kinsella’s vocabulary. Parts of the album could be lifted out as soundtracks for any number of videos or Internet projects, but God Is An Astronaut are a band, not composers. Underneath all the effects and production (beautiful as they are) is a rock band that formed in a small town. Similar bands like Russian Circles and Pelican have stayed true. But neither can pull off the contradictory “ambient metal” sound that GIAA have defined.
Ghost Tapes #10 won’t be for everyone. It’s a challenging listen that works best as backdrop, not front and centre. The band certainly shows no signs of slowing down or compromising, and this isn’t a bold new step for them. But it will please longtime listeners and catch fans of less abrasive music. God Is An Astronaut once said each album is a “sonic snapshot of who we are in that moment in time”. A lot more people at the moment could be feeling like them than they realize.