Ghostwoods(Australia)-Album: My Neon (4000 Records, 2023)
Led by musician/composer James Lees, the languorous, atmospheric music of Ghostwoods has been gradually blinking into existence since the lockdown winter of 2020. Isolated and with time to kill at his home in Mt Nebo/Jinibara Country, James turned to composing and tinkering on the piano with the sparse and spooky fragments that would become the first collection of Ghostwoods compositions.
Created at Mount Nebo-based recording studio Wild Mountain Sound, with much-loved Brisbane producer Jamie Trevaskis, the first compositions were released on the Dark Moon EP in late 2021. In 2022, work continued on a full-length album, entitled My Neon, presaged by the singles ‘Terminal Bliss’ (Oct 2022) and ‘Brighter Now’ (Dec 2022).
Like all of the music in this first wave of Ghostwoods compositions, My Neon retains its piano-led provenance, fleshed out by synths, percussion and contributions from key collaborators Mark Angel (electric guitars), Karl O’Shea (bass), Andrew Saragossi (flute/clarinet/sax) and Rohan Seekers (keys/synths).
“The more I work on Ghostwoods music, the more I understand what it is actually about,” says Lees. “Having always been used to working with singer/songwriters, I am very concept-based and the instrumental setting of Ghostwoods subverted and challenged that for me. As we do more recording, and more live shows, the music and the project itself is teaching me what it is about. It’s such a fascinating and satisfying process.”
My Neon was created with much less planning than typically goes into a James Lees project. Particularly in the studio, Lees is usually meticulously prepared when approaching a session but challenged himself to be more free and leaving space to be playful and experiment.
As with many instrumental pieces, the narrative/theme/meaning is left to the listener to manifest. There are shared intrinsic links between the album’s six tracks, some even unwittingly inhabiting similar musical motifs in their early stages. After being carefully shaped and chiseled in the studio, those shared compositional affinities linger in the tracks and connect them as a whole even with each tune having a distinct stylistic identity.
“The title My Neon is actually the words Mt Nebo autocorrected – I sent this to a friend on a text message, and liked the mistake!” muses Lees. “It came to mean how I see the music in my mind as I strongly experience synesthesia with sound and music. It felt like a way to convey the colours of this sometimes rather dark music, and that is reflected in the artwork too which also features my house in Mt Nebo – my little sanctuary away from the world, and where the music is created.”