[sic] Magazine

Former Ghosts – Fleurs

There’s an argument that a true super-group has to contain members of well-known bands. It has some truth as most bands are formed from fragments of others, often little more than ill-advised school or vanity projects, and rightly these do not count. However, when lesser-known-to-obscure groups disband and pool into new creations the distinction is less clear.

Former Ghosts consists of Xiu Xiu’s front-man Jamie Stewart, as well as Nika Roza of Zola Jesus “fame” and Freddy Rupert from the spectacularly emo-monikered This Song Is A Mess But So Am I. Whether this is a valid super-group or not, it is easy to hear who’s in charge all the same.

Jamie Stewart’s experimental yet poppish rock leans heavily on electronic influences, synth pulses, Casio exchanges and vocal treatment. Fleurs follows this template closely, but its varied member-base is not just there to make up numbers. The spooky, melancholic and minimal finish that Roza provides on the closer “This Is My Last Goodbye” aligns Former Ghosts more with Lightning Dust’s slow psych and quiver than with any of their constituent elements.

Fleurs is nevertheless a mostly faithful reproduction of the Xiu Xiu catalogue to date and played back-to-back with the new album Dear God, I Hate Myself many tracks could be interchangeable. Luckily, not all for Fleurs has Stewart’s current Xiu Xiu project beat on several occasions. Where recent Xiu Xiu albums have failed to catch the paranoia, meandering beats and melodies of the band’s most critically successful album Fabulous Muscles, Fleurs finds these same elements reinvigorated and injected with agreeable pop.

As such, the lazy, lingering “Joy Division with a Casio” comparisons which have been abounded are mostly without base. This said, on occasion, Stewart’s miserable, near-spoken baritone does evoke the same shadows as Curtis, the soaring synths sometimes New Order. For example, on the electronic “Mother”, Stewart’s vocal is pitch-shifted into a tinny warble, far from Curtis-country, the synth clicks and chatters, the bass line however does allow for contorting, Peter Hook-like confidence.

Happily, Former Ghosts have real substance beyond comparison, and though Fleurs flirts with pop its heart is still in experimental. “Choices” swells like those classical William Orbit remixes, Roza’s vocal involvement is not limited to just one track and she tackles the calming “In Earth’s Palm” with a heart-warming rattle. The breathy and twinkling “Dreams” does its title proud, but it is Roza’s reappearance on “The Bull And The Ram” that, along with “This Is My Last Goodbye”, provides the real highlight.

Her deadpan and soaring elongated vowels echo around these two tracks and the subtle melodies behind them offer concrete-like support. Her repetitive determination and commitment to the project is evident in these show-stealing deliveries. She knows and easily convinces that Former Ghosts is a more than worthwhile side-project and proves it with an enviable performance.