A quick story about how first impressions matter. To me, anyway. When I opened the envelope containing Tedd Arnold’s Ghostchild, the first thing I saw was a round sticker on the CD case that read, “Listen! They sound like stories!” And I immediately thought, “Oh, great. An artist who feels the need to over-explain his work.” This, to me, does not bode well. To me, it’s the sign of a lack of confidence in your work, a safeguard against the negative or “I don’t get it” opinion. Good news, Mr. Arnold—there’s no need to over-explain. Ghostchild is a fairly engaging album built on a crossover mix of old-school sequencer work, New Age dramatics, and—yes—a pleasant sense of narrative. It’s a bit of a hit and miss for me because it can dwell too much in heard-it-before New Age tropes and dramatics for my listening tastes, but in the places where Arnold’s work strongly catches my attention it holds me fast. The opening track, “Apparition,” is one of those places. A quick repeating bass line, sparkling sequencer notes and some interesting manipulated background sounds form its basis, delivering energy and tension. “Returning” has me when Arnold breaks into a sound between overamped flute and distorted rock guitar and just cranks the energy levels. I get hooked into the big chords and “We Will Rock You” drum line of “I Know You Can Hear Me.” Choral pads, the ol’ New Age standby, are used well here, particularly in a break about halfway through. Little bit of creepiness works in at the end, effectively. “Spirit Guide” moves in an appropriately ghostly fashion, the background washed through with atmospheric whispers. Bass strings play an elegy, and as the piece goes along, it fully conveys the sense of a journey, of following. “DeNovo” announces the end of the disc with a burst of rough energy that then settles into a pulsing rhythm blended with world music flavors. Great electronic treatments in here, with sweeping sounds and vocoder’d voice taking on a didge-like tone. (Though my vote is still out on whether the sudden drop-off at the end works. I get it, but it leaves a slight unfinished taste.) Arnold’s stories are short. Most tracks flit by in two to four minutes. He does a fine job of laying down an easy through-line without any real leaps of tone, but the brevity often means a piece takes its bow just as it’s reaching a point of fullness and potential. When he gives himself more space, as with “Returning” and “Spirit Guide,” he avoids that feeling and provides a more satisfying ride.
Listeners who are more into a classic New Age sound than I will probably enjoy Ghostchild more than I did. There are definitely strong pieces on here, and Arnold understands how to lay in emotion and drama. (Yes, and make things sound like stories.) Too light for me in places but absolutely ear-catching in others, Ghostchild is worth a listen.
Available at CD Baby.