Taking Aun’s Phantom Ghost at face value you could probably do a fair job of predicting the sounds within. The cover image is an out-of-focus picture of two young girls in white gowns; one sits looking at something out of sight while the other stands, almost hovering, in the foreground. I’ve not listened to a second of it yet and already Phantom Ghost has me on edge, expecting a spooky old time. A few seconds after pressing the play button it sounds like the girl on the album cover is singing, alone in a dusty village church accompanied by the spirits of those who rest in the graveyard outside.
If album opener “Phantom” is the ghostly apparition that intrigues you to come closer for a better look, “Out Of Mind” represents the jolt of being dragged by the spectre into the spirit world. Bombastic programmed drums, swirling guitar textures and airy synths create an expansive atmosphere that is palpable and eery, while enigmatic, barely-audible vocals repeat the song’s mantra throughout, sounding like a language that can’t be comprehended by the living. The initial rush of adrenalin is soon affected by the sinister synths which weave in and out of the song, supplementing the off-kilter melody and adding to the overall sense of unease.
As the album progresses it is the synthesisers that form the real backbone of the material with only occasional guitar or vocal punctuations. The French vocals at the end of “Travellers” help to make the explicit connection to French sound-smiths Air whose influence, along with the likes of Cocteau Twins, Future Sound of London and Boards of Canada, can be felt throughout this ambient album.
Aun also prove that you don’t need a down-tuned guitar, a Fuzz Factory and a Neanderthal singing some nonsense about Satan to create a feeling of foreboding doom. “Orga II”, with its crackling, stuttering percussion, repetitive, bubbling bassline and Angelo Badalamenti-esque synthesisers, evokes a sense of being stuck in physical and mental limbo, while the album as a whole feels like a metaphysical journey through the aforementioned spirit world, stopping fleetingly at familiar milestones along the way.
Some people might not appreciate the amount of work that goes into producing ambient music like this – in many ways it’s a far more complex art than most other musical forms. But it’s a tough balancing act that involves many factors – use of repetition, length, variation, melody and the absence of it. Too often purely ambient, atmospheric artists can burrow too deeply into their little worlds leaving the rest of us looking in wondering what we’re missing. When Aun get the balance right, like on the My Bloody Valentine homage “Out Of Mind” or the powerfully evocative “Orga II”, they create music of real emotional weight. However songs like “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Light Years” tend to outstay their welcome without offering us much more than a pretty diversion. I came to this album and this band with no prior knowledge of them and I came away just slightly underwhelmed but pleasantly surprised by what the band was doing. Your best bet is to let this album wash over you and either shake it off or bask in its otherworldly embrace.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin