Simon Joyner’s thirteenth studio album is Ghosts (or sixteenth or so if you count the early tapes) and it’s release marks 20 years that Joyner has been making music. He funded the project with a Kickstarter campaign, in which he outlined some big ambitions for the double album that he called “experimental and sprawling, featuring some avant/psych/noise damage and songs wrestling with the ghosts of Alex Chilton, Skip Spence, and Jackson C. Frank, among other persistent influences.” The entire recording process was analog, with no digital technology used at all and it was released on Joyner’s own revived record label, Sing, Eunuchs! The result is a collection of songs that are filled with flavors, decorations, and experimentations that are unique to Joyner’s catalog, while still capturing the same old Joyner spirit.
“Vertigo” opens up the record with a solid minute of guitar noise, immediately setting the spooky and haunted tone for almost an hour and a half that is to follow. “Haunted” is the appropriate term for the record, because Joyner’s voice is permeated by a strong sense of loss in every song. There has always been a charm to his rambling verses and well-penned tragedies, and on this record he delves deeper into both of those things than he has in a while. Like on “When the Worst Doesn’t Happen,” he sings, “You can always get lower my friend.” The album bounces back and forth between the lofty melodies of Leonard Cohen and the dissonant tortured chanting of Jandek, usually leaning toward the latter. Truthfully, Ghosts can be pretty dense. It may not be possible to listen to the whole thing in one sitting.
That style might be what makes Joyner’s music inaccessible to a popular audience. Released in August this year, Ghosts hasn’t even been reviewed by many major media outlets. Joyner has been working hard in the underground his entire career. In an interview back in 2010, he said he preferred the house show scenes to big tours. Ghosts can definitely be seen as a culmination of his efforts, being a completely independent project with nearly every part of the process authored by Joyner himself. The auteur idea is carried especially into the lyrics, as Joyner is ever self-conscious. In “Red Bandana Blues,” Joyner begins with “I’m leaving, I’m going, I’m fleeing / I’m bowing out before the digs and little hurts turn to hisses and curses.” He uses the symbol from the song’s title to create a vivid self-portrait and to reflect on his career and his aspirations, singing, “I’m staying, I ain’t running / I’ll be right here on this porch swing, swinging until morning / Keeping the hair from my eyes with a ragged red bandana.”
Yet maybe, with corporate hands out of the picture thanks to Kickstarter, Ghosts really does belong out of the media spotlight as a true example of a solely artist-to-listener relationship. It’s a record funded by fans and made for fans.