Following up Ghost Funk Orchestra’s excellent and moving debut LP, 2019’s A Song for Paul, wasn’t going to be an easy task. Yet, Seth Applebaum and his sonic family of bandmates and collaborators drastically upped the ante and really delivered on An Ode to Escapism.
Perhaps the first major change between records that a keen listener might notice, is the great shift in the complexity of the compositions. From utilizing impressively complicated time signatures to writing pieces for a dynamic string section, Applebaum is displaying a great deal of growth here as a composer. Additionally, tying all of the songs and the concept of the record together with a series of spoken instructions (read soothingly by actress Alba Ponce de Leon) feels like the natural maturation of Applebaum’s use of spoken word tracks and poetry on previous releases.
The production work on this album, also helmed by Applebaum himself, is deeply satisfying to an absurd degree. The silky smooth harmonies of the group’s vocal trio is absolutely stunning and treated with intense care and attention behind the mixing board. On songs like “Quiet Soul” and “Little Bird,” you feel the singers’ individual voices blending seamlessly together into a single wave that completely surges and sweeps away the listener.
Applebaum also did an impressive job at allowing the string sections to float from the background and swerve around the horns and keyboards, to snake their way to the foreground and take center stage at only the most crucial times. This mixing shows a great deal of restraint and good taste, which seems rare for someone who’s so new at dealing with orchestration in the studio.
Being an album that’s about both trying to process the stress and anxiety of modern life and exploring what lingers deep within your subconsciousness, An Ode to Escapism of course feels haunted by shadows and a tension that wasn’t present on its predecessor. Just check out the last half of “Step Back (Wild Child),” with its swelling cinematic strings and jabbing vocals, or the murky fever-dream vibes of “Korban Olah,” for an example.
This is not to say that the album isn’t a fun listen. Rather, most of the record glides with a mellow groove, and several tracks end up feeling like straight-up parties. “Queen Bee,” is an especially thrilling number (which had been a total highlight during many of GFO’s last live performances before COVID happened) with soaring lead vocals provided by Megan Mancini (also of The Rizzos). The utterly slammin’ “Fuzzy Logic” is another wild example of this, especially thanks to its bopping baritone sax and flute interplay and the bad-ass vocal delivery of Romi Hanoch (also of Powersnap).
Another highlight is the track that totally embodies the theme of the record,”King of Misdirection.” With its lyrics about dropping out of the world, temporarily, in order to cope with things like climate change and the current administration’s inability to improve race relations, this is the song that could provide the most catharsis to listeners right now. Lines like, “If my boots were made to walk/and my lips were made to talk/and that heart of mine is beating like a drum/give myself some time to breathe/cause we all know that’s what I need until the King of Misdirection takes a knee,” delivered with a fiery passion by The Suffers‘ Kam Franklin, sums up what so many of us have been feeling throughout the pandemic, the George Floyd protests and this tumultuous election season. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this is one of the most essential songs for mental stability in 2020.
With An Ode to Escapism, Ghost Funk Orchestra have proved themselves to be, once again, one of the most creative bands operating within the world of funk and jazz right now. Do not miss out on this record. You’ll need it to help get through the rest of this year.
Click here, so you can pick this album up from Karma Chief/Colemine Records right now.