As Zed Penguin’s founder and chief agitator Matthew Winters is keen to point out, debut album 'A Ghost, A Beast' is a record that relies on both to convey its power.
If the ghost is an avatar of spirit and ideas, there’s no lack of either here: from the sweet strings of opener ‘Out On The Deadly Hume’ to the more poetic exorcisms scattered throughout (“You and I know it takes more than a digital kiss to get you through the night”), the album is never too far from melody and light. But it’s the beast – the growling, primal guts of the record – that dominates, spitting out aggressive musical and lyrical turns like bloody teeth.
Nonetheless, the two are almost always in collusion, and Winters has had plenty of practice. After leaving Australia and arriving in Scotland during the darkest months in 2004, the songwriter immediately set about realising his primary objective: securing a job on a fishing trawler. When that dream fell through, the artist reluctantly settled on the position of rock star, putting together a set of home-made demos and posting them on – where else? – MySpace. If it took 14 years to put together a four-piece band and a debut album, it certainly seems to have been worth the wait.
Though there are moments when the record slips into pandemonium, for the most part, it’s a masterstroke in balance and poise. Although it’s the more indie-rock moments that prove the most enticing, particularly the loveable ‘End Of Time’ and ‘The Letters’, even the more experimental moments allow space for hope; ‘The Source Of My Dreams’ is meandering in a beautiful way, even as it abandons the traditional song structures on show elsewhere.
Still, nothing quite beats the thrill of that beast at full roar. The title track recalls Modest Mouse at their most bilious, and ‘Violent Night’ captures their sneer perfectly: “Twenty-first century warriors? Oh please…” If this is how confident Zed Penguin sound on their debut, god knows what they’ll be capable of achieving next.
Words: Matthew Neale
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