Review: Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin ‘Ghosted’

Repetition in music can be a divisive thing. On one hand the riff, by definition, is a relentlessly repeated hook or phrase, forms the bedrock of some of the most celebrated pieces of rock history. From Satisfaction to Dopesmoker, Sunshine Of Your Love to Paranoid, the repetition of a handful of fuzzy notes has elevated the status of more than a few numbers to ‘Classic’. And there are genres where repetition is indulged and saluted more than others – No riff, no doom!

Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin 'Ghosted'

Of course, the other side to this is those who would decry repetition in music as meaning the artist was bereft of inspiration, flogging one idea to death. Or even the response of a late twentieth century government legislating against music comprising ‘sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.’ i.e. Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Myself, I like a bit of repetition in my music. There’s something trance inducing about phrases and rhythms being heroically repeated long past the point where non-believers have dropped away. Something tribal, whether it’s rhythmic drumming, looping riffs, vocal lines phasing in and out ad infinitum. Some of the best music is one idea stretched, repeated, hacked, mutilated, built on… you get the idea. And quite contrary to the idea that the artist was bereft of inspiration, it shows the skill of said artist in fully realising the potential of that idea, playing with it, viewing it from all angles. jazz and krautrock have often been good at this. Let’s jump in.

Ghosted is the result of a meeting between Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin in November 2018 at Studio Rymden, Stockholm. I remain painfully ignorant of these three men and their oeuvre. As such I approach Ghosted with no preconceptions.

The four pieces on this record demonstrate the group’s nuanced understanding of the creative use of repetition and space in music. The space around and between the instruments used is tangible, each given the room needed to fully actualise its voice, its tone, its timbre. I takes a bass riff and establishes it alongside percussion as the root of everything that is to come, the foundation on which everything else is to be built. Indeed, this is all about a percussiveness that takes front of stage over high-pitched drones. I hear the strains of traditional West African stringed instruments here at times. Eight minutes is just too short for me though – I demand more!

A demi-masterpiece of space, texture, and repetition that rewards repeated listening…

II picks up with an eight-note harmonic-style almost pizzicato riff looped under some drumming that threads a neat and funky path around and through it. One drum, one man, a pattern that seems never and ever repeating. And over the top of it all, a noise, guitar generated(?), that feeds back and stretches sustained, ragged single notes over all the syncopation an individual can handle. Again, there’s so much ‘room’ in this piece that you can hear everything, and by concentrating just a bit, you can draw the line you wish to the fore. Along with I, this piece is an exemplar of the use of texture in music, particularly via percussive playing. I could listen to this for a very long time without feeling the need to skip on to something else.

The third track – called III obvs. – is a near sixteen-minute odyssey beginning with a chiming guitar that is, in short order, usurped by the bass playing the most jazz-orthodox line of the whole album, all underpinned by snare and hi-hat brush work whose texture you can almost feel in your mouth. As with the other pieces here, the intertwining lines seem to alternate in which is the lead. The repetition within is so complete that the smallest deviation draws your attention and gives that instrument momentary prominence.

III makes use of sustained guitar and organ chords and notes, themselves making use of modulatory tweaks to add depth to the sound. These drones bring a different feeling to this track and the next (IV), a different kind of trance-inducing as compared to the rhythmic hypnotics of the first two tracks. IV is a departure from its bedfellows in that it’s shorter (much), has very much a come-down feel about it and features the bass taking an obvious lead line, augmented by stretched strains of organ.

This whole album was a revelation to me. I haven’t come across, sought out, or listened to anything that sounds like this in a long time. I don’t know if it’s jazz, psychedelic, prog, krautrock… It’s outside my sphere whatever it is. There’s no doubt that Messrs Ambarchi, Berthling, and Werliin are brilliant musicians, something that doesn’t always equate to commensurate creativity. Ghosted, however, is different. A demi-masterpiece of space, texture, and repetition that rewards repeated listening. When The Shaman comes calling for my Top Ten of 2022, don’t be surprised if you see this in there.

Label: Drag City
Oren Ambarchi: Official | Bandcamp | Twitter
Johan Berthling: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: George Green