First things first: Cool Ghouls are not a retro act. If you seek musical salvation in the form of mop-topped mannequins with vintage riffs and hand-me-down rags, please stop reading. Yes, the Cool Ghouls borrowed their name from George Clinton’s Funkadelic-era pre-show banter. Yes, they dwell penniless in the storied hills of culturally resurgent San Francisco. But these boys have their feet firmly planted in the soil of the now. They look not backwards for approving nods of hipster forebears, but rather skyward, hoping that the “supernatural forces” they yodel for, guide them to all corners of a half-deserving world. Truth be told, this being their first official release, they may even be a bit naïve in their dogged pursuit of the true-blue, home-spun, rock and roll lifestyle.
If one were to ascribe to them a 60′s-reverent description, as one often does in the case of San Francisco bands, one would most likely find an artistic kinship with some the most inimitable, idiosyncratic, yet unmistakably influential bands of the retro-fitting oeuvre. The Troggs, The Monks, Sir Douglas Quintet come to mind immediately. (Save your Kinks and Rolling Stones references.) Like the aforementioned, the Ghouls are natural heirs to the folkloric lineage which precedes them, adding dashes of weirdness where needed. And despite their mid-fi leanings and natural fit within the current pantheon of San Francisco rock ‘n roll bands (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall), theirs is a timeless record, which will hopefully transcend the descriptors (garage, psych, etc.) that will undoubtedly plague it in the blogosfear. The reason being – they write good SONGS.
These young men have honed their three-headed vocal attack in front of ambitious and unexpected chord progressions, an unrelenting rhythm section, and a keen ear for harmony. Theirs is a trifecta of songwriting styles, ranging from the raspy, rambling psychedelic soul of longhair Pat McDonald (“Grace”), to the high yonder twang of bassist Pat Thomas (“Natural Life”), to the boisterous, fever-pitched, perfect pop of lead guitarist Ryan Wong. Despite the seeming disparity between styles, the Ghouls make it work. Theirs is a truly democratic song-making process, wherein all members are eager to contribute their most zealous performances. Hence, the debut record, an adventurous, colorful romp seen through the eyes of old-souled youths, feels wholly coherent and intentional. The self-assuredness of their songwriting is evident. And no, the Ghouls are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves; this is partly what makes the record so digestible. It doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is; a record for now, a record for then, and a record for forever.
- Tim Cohen (Fresh and Onlys, Magic Trick)