Brooklyn Synthpop masters Holy Ghost! return on Friday, June 21st with their new album, Work. Marking the first release in thirty years for the recently revived legendary disco label West End Records, Work also closes a six-year gap for Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, who last released Dynamics in 2013.
Releasing their Crime Cutz EP in 2016, keeping fans satisfied until the new album was complete, Holy Ghost! wasted little time releasing singles for Work. Starting with “Anxious” this past October, it was eclipsed in February by matching halves “Epton on Broadway (Part I&II),” two songs which feature friend Alex Epton and combined eclipse the six-minute mark. Then there was album clover “Escape from Los Angeles” released in April, “Do This” in May, and “Nicky Buckingham” a week prior to the full LP.
With a good deal of material out for fans to sample, Work is a total of twelve song which in many ways pays tribute to the Disco. That said, the crisp melody and muted synth work on “Soon” could just as well be shelved in the Rock-n-Roll section, but it still manages to retain the distinct Holy Ghost! Nu-disco sound. “Slow Burn” quickly follows, sounding as if it dodged a different fate among the more Pop takes from recent Nine Inch Nails releases. In general, this record has just enough modern polish to sound fresh, but its vision stays antiquated enough to remind listeners of a time when a simple catchy hook could travel around the world and back again.
Then there is “Heaven Knows What,” which takes the nuts and bolts of a bass and drum hook and slowly builds a crisp, haunting symphonic crescendo, alternating the two sounds effectively before the song fades away in what can best be described as synth guitar solo. Furthermore, the dour, rigid vibes of “Nicky Buckingham” keep the poppy feel while introducing some percussion rhythms and more traditional synth.
Holy Ghost! seems to have purposely staggered the danciest numbers in alternating order with some of the more somber moments, as the infections “Do This” takes focus with a beat that is impossible not to mimic with all willing limbs. Then there is “One for Pete,” which is basically a short instrumental victory lap for the main beat of its predecessor. Another example of a retro sound with modern technicality, “My Happy House” could easily fit on the Yaz 1982 classic Upstairs at Eric’s. This is all while “Escape from Los Angeles” is the long, expansive closer, a sonic and geographical bookend to opener “Epton on Broadway.” That in mind, detached vocals are almost an afterthought here, as the catchy central hook is meant to disperse with talk and get bodies onto the dance floor.
The total effect of Work is on of almost painful dance-ability. From the whispy opening of “Epton on Broadway” carried through by the clap & snap of “Do This” and the shuffle of “My Happy House” before wrapped by the range of closer “Escape from Los Angeles,” the duo Holy Ghost! manage. Even a pensive detour like “Heaven Knows What” keeps the beat at the forefront. Overall, the pair masterfully mix dense hooks, sparse beats, and a variety of vocal styles to create a catchy Pop album with serious themes under the sheen of danceable beats. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Work 4 out of 5 stars.