The Pet Ghost Project – The Great Satisfactory
Sheer musical creativity and willingness to take risks separates this Indie-experimental rock from the field
If Justin Stivers’ Pet Ghost Project were a band, the ghost portion of its title would have to apply exclusively to his band. That’s because this densely-layered, polyvocal mash of 90’s influenced experimental rock is, quite surprisingly, a solo project. When I first listened to The Great Satisfactory, Stivers’ second full-length album, I imagined a front man with three or four supporting musicians in tow; however, the disc’s instrumentation reads vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and others (which includes shakers, foot-stomping and synthesizers) all accomplished by Stivers. I was impressed. Justin Stivers’ one-member band is limited solely by his recording equipment and technique; what may be lacking fidelity-wise is made up for by the sheer range of influence, risk-taking and creativity.
In terms of sound, The Great Satisfactory draws water from deep musical wells. On [url=http://www.myspace.com/thepetghostproject]his Myspace site[/u], Stivers notes that The Pet Ghost Project draws from Neutral Milk Hotel, Tom Waits and old Modest Mouse. I would include the more mainstream Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Beck in the aquifer. His sound is more lo-fi than the bands I mentioned, but elements of their sound (i.e. Beck’s songwriting and instrumental range, snippets of Nirvana-esque guitar tones and the feel of epic The Pumpkins distilled) all permeate The Great Satisfactory, coloring its tones.
The stylistic range on The Great Satisfactory is surprising. The fuzzed-out, punchy jam “At Least I’m Alive” enters with what sounds like someone de-corking a champagne bottle. It twists and turns through a synthesized sea of muddle, strips to a near-naked acoustic guitar punctuated by a Stivers bellowing a multi-layered “Oh,” splashes a repetitive, raunchy electric guitar tone and finally mutates into a synth-and-electric jam parade. It’s more complex than a rarified French wine, but recorded, I’d wager intentionally, to sound like it was cut in a project studio in some dank Seattle basement. And “At Least I’m Alive” is just one song, buried deep in the album, relegated behind a host of others just as compelling and complex.
Beyond the music’s commendable range, Justin Stivers’ words, oftentimes buried beneath sound mountains, are worth digging out. In “Encore,” his social commentary seethes like a bucketful of hot coals dropped into a December river: “The city devours another tree / that would’ve loved to create food for you and me. / Well we’ve added up all the numbers and stats / in conclusion this all means shit.” The other numbers and stats are embedded in minimalist yet poignant lyrics about the misdeeds and ironies of a doctor, an electrician and a lawyer as they fumble through contradictory lives. The opening song, “Drunk and Smiling at Heaven,” has an epic introduction of catastrophically distorted guitars melting into an on-off synth, which is finally curtailed by acoustic guitar. Stivers’ darkly sardonic lyrics amount to a calculated two-sentences, walloping you in the gut: “The cows are filing in one by one over graves, getting drunk off decay / I’d join them but I’ve never been that good at smiling.”
I cannot neglect to mention the out-and-out D.I.Y. feel of The Pet Ghost Project. No expenses were wasted in the creation of The Great Satisfactory, and while this may turn some listeners off, it strikes a true chord in me. The fact that a so complex and far-reaching album would be wrapped in a simple cover speaks volumes to Stivers’ confidence in the pure content of his sophomore album. That confidence is warranted.
-Timothy C. Avery