As in January 2017, when I found myself utterly bewitched by the debut album from Jordan Ireland & Purple Orchestra, 2018 starts with a small miracle. Southend’s Ghost Music – so named because most of these songs are built on the skeletons of long-forgotten demos by their members’ former bands – mine a particularly Anglo-Antipodean seam of low-key lo-fi bedsit romanticism: if you’ve ever found yourself sharing a long dark night of the soul with the likes of Tindersticks, The Go-Betweens, Shack, The Chills or Gravenhurst, then you’ll welcome Ghost Music into your world like a loveable, dishevelled and occasionally grumpy old mongrel.
Appropriate then that the opening track is called ‘Home Dog’, all shuffling drums, spectral surf guitar and hangdog (sorry) lyrics – “Everything is going wrong – do you think I’ll last this long?” It’s so subtly performed, beautifully arranged and effortlessly catchy that by its midpoint you’re convinced you’re in the presence of greatness, and what follows shows that you’re not fucking wrong.
‘Heart-Shaped Holiday’, and if there’s a better song – or indeed title – released this year, I’ll be both surprised and delighted, initially sounds like one of Grant McLennan’s more mournful moments (“The pictures on your wall remind you you’ve seen it all”), before taking a surprise left-turn in the direction of Galaxie 500. If you knew how much I love both Grant McLennan and Galaxie 500 you’d appreciate how happy this makes me. ‘Strange Love’ and ‘Blind Spot’ are pure jangle-pop nirvana, and if there’s a better song released…hang on, didn’t I already say that? The folkier ‘Queen of England’ is all peak (ie If You’re Feeling Sinister-era) Belle & Sebastian (“When I met the Queen of England I was overwhelmed with joy/In the kitchen, at a party, with her arms around a boy”), with a chorus that sums up the vein of melancholy running through the album – “Used to have the feeling that things would turn out well/But I don’t have that feeling any more.” Awwwww.
‘Gurl in a Whorl’ is a little more upbeat, a spritely VU tribute that begins as a sweet little pop song and ends up drenched in feedback, before fading into the stunning ‘Blackbird Stars’, a ‘Sunday Morning’ to the previous track’s ‘Waiting for the Man’. “What happened to me holding you in my arms?” sings Matt Randall, like he’s only just realised she’s gone, on top of an arrangement so utterly perfect that if there’s a better song released this year…
See what I mean? I Was Hoping You’d Pass by Here is 36 minutes of quiet, unassuming, glass-half-empty brilliance that doesn’t announce its presence but leaves you awestruck and moist-eyed when it ends. If there’s a better album released…oh you know what I’m going to say.