Thought Forms are a relatively unknown band at the moment but with the release of Ghost Mountain that could (and should) change. Geoff Barrow of Portishead signed the trio to Invada a few years back and while this is the second album they have released under the label, Ghost Mountain should go a long way to establishing the band as one of the prime movers of current British underground alternative rock music.
It’s easy to see where Thought Forms draw inspiration from and yet they are surprisingly difficult to categorise. From a cursory first glance they seem most suitably aligned with the raw yet melodic stylings of Sonic Youth or the epic soundscapes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor but such comparisons would be foolish and short sighted ones to make.
With Ghost Mountain, Thought Forms bring together the righteous fuzz and clatter of garage bands, the protracted dread of post rock and the charm and energy best equated with indie music. It’s a remarkably varied record and showcases an impressive control of dynamics and atmosphere, sometimes cold and brutal, sometimes warm and uplifting.
This range that the band possess is clearly indicated with the first two tunes on the album, “Landing” and “Ghost Mountain You and Me” respectively. “Landing” is simply crushing. Guitars wail through layers of chugging distortion and singer Charlie Romijin’s lost, haunted howls. But if “Landing” is the descent, “Ghost Mountain You and Me” is the elevation, sounding like a hypnotic and beautiful ode of tranquillity and joy.
The following tracks “Sans Soleil” and “Burn Me Clean” are similarly at odds stylistically. With “Sans Soleil” the band move into the territory of the kind of late eighties/early nineties alternative rock previously alluded to and presents a nice break from both the dark and the light. Still, it’s “Burn Me Clean” which demands the most attention and acts as a kind of centrepiece for the whole album. At thirteen minutes long it’s a vast work of supremely orchestrated dark ambience and doom metal. An overdriven chord is sustained throughout as the scattered crash of cymbals, drum rolls, discordant strings and spectral vocals build towards an earth-shattering wall of noise.
While it’s easy to praise a band that has such a command of style and sound, it does present a problem, as sometimes the shift in tone can be an incredibly jarring experience. Take “Only Hollow.” While the song is another brilliantly executed slab of garage rock it immediately takes one out of the trance brought on by its preceding opus, and this juxtaposition is a little uncomfortable. The next song “Afon” changes the pace again, bringing things back down from charged and energetic to mournful and dirge-like. Thought Forms have a great gift for song writing but when the rhythm and flow is being upset in this way the structure and balance of an otherwise excellent record is somewhat compromised.
Still, Ghost Mountain is undeniably a superlative work and is completed by two tracks, “Song for Junko” and “O.” “Song for Junko” switches between spacey and psychedelic and driving and head banging, while “O” oscillates between desolation and affirmation, going from empty wasteland to power rock with the same skill and confidence demonstrated throughout.
Ghost Mountain is, to put it frankly, the best record I have heard so far this year. The only real criticism, weak as it is, is that the band behind it hasn’t quite worked out whether they want to be a straight-up rock band or something more experimental. In any case, they work so well at both objectives that they succeed on both fronts. Whatever path they choose to take on, Thought Forms will prove themselves an exemplary force to be reckoned with. Take notice.