Ghost Tapes #10, the latest album from the Irish post-rock group God Is An Astronaut, is poignantly formidable.
Scroll down for a Q & A with founding member Torsten Kinsella, who handles guitars and pianos/ synths for the band.
The impassioned release is consistently strikingly heavy, and it also carries a sense of emotional power as the intense riffs waver and flow with a sense of internalized unease. Although much of the music is rather brisk, a lot of the journey also feels somewhat mournful, or at least meditative. The heavy riffs flow organically, as though capturing an emotional outpouring in real time or reflecting some kind of majestic fixture in the natural world, like a waterfall.
Fundamentally, the instrumentals feel very strong, and there’s not really a sense of pervading uncertainty here. Instead, the music feels directly emotive, as though telling a story. The dynamics throughout Ghost Tapes #10 shift relatively consistently, smoothly progressing from the quickly moving rhythmic whitewater rapids of “Adrift” and the somber opening of “Burial” to the particularly fast and partially drum-led “Barren Trees” and the surprise cello melodies on “Luminous Waves,” which closes the album on a quiet note. Throughout the album, God Is An Astronaut repeatedly sound jarringly heavy, but there’s always an emotionally resonant shimmer in the sound.
There’s a subtle feeling of surreality within Ghost Tapes #10, as nicely exemplified by the title itself and the cover art, which depicts a passenger plane moving through some kind of otherworldly, unnatural barrier and seemingly coming apart. The feeling of the album seems reflective of potentially delicate personal emotional states. While in the throes of precarious or volatile feelings, perceptions can markedly change, and God Id An Astronaut explore this space with refreshing clarity.
The earnest music features a richly engaging tension between the majesty of the sound and the passionate emotional expression of the individual melodies. Although God Is An Astronaut have put together an intensely powerful collection of songs, there’s also a real space for self-contemplation, as though standing in the shadow of an expansive mountain range and inwardly feeling a broader context for personal concerns. These personal concerns and the affecting melodies don’t really fade when alongside the heavier components — instead, the passion expands, and the whole journey feels infused with a feeling of arriving at a point of emotional culmination.
Besides Torsten, as of Ghost Tapes #10 — which is the long-running band’s tenth full-length album — God Is An Astronaut includes Niels Kinsella on bass, Lloyd Hanney on drums, and Jamie Dean on guitar and piano.
Listen to Ghost Tapes #10 below!
Check out the full Q & A with Torsten Kinsella below!
The Center of Ghost Tapes #10
Captured Howls: Ghost Tapes #10 is very compelling. To start out on a broad level, where do you feel like the emotional or thematic core of this new album sits? In the absence of major amounts of lyrics, are there particular themes that come to mind around which you built the album?
Torsten Kinsella: Ghost Tapes #10 isn’t about a specific event or mood but is more of a reflection over the last 2 years. We have some vocals on “Barren Trees” — it’s the only song that has lyrics, which were partly inspired by the time of the year it was written in and the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.
Barren Trees – (Lyrics)
“Fade to darkness, frozen ground
Leaves fallen, barren trees
Snowy twilight, cold moon rising
Creaking branches, moving shadows
Where the spectres of winter are rising.”
The vocals are mixed like an instrument so that they blend with the instruments, the balance is critical.
CH: How did you tend to conceptualize the songs in the first place? For instance, would you say that the album charts a metaphorical journey, of sorts, through tension and relief? I got that impression, among other highlights.
TK: Each album is essentially a snapshot in time shaped by the events we experience in life; it’s the main source of our inspiration. “Adrift” for example was written in February of 2020 so perhaps captures these very strange times, it would be impossible for us not to have some kind of artistic response to that.
The Force of Ghost Tapes #10
CH: I have seen this record described as one of the most forceful pieces of your catalogue, and while listening through the songs, some of the force definitely stuck out to me. Some of the music sounded rather heavy. Are there particular ideas that led you down this path of rather forceful songs? Is there something particular that you were after?
TK: “Seance Room” was the last song we wrote for Epitaph which was written in memory of our 7-year-old cousin whose life was tragically taken away. “Burial” was the first song we wrote for Ghost Tapes #10 — it touches on the aftermath; it is the transition between the two albums.
The last 2 years in general have been unprecedented for us. Our last live performance was in Boston nearly 16 months ago. Our All is Violent 15 year anniversary tour in 2020 fell through due to the pandemic and that was especially frustrating because we hadn’t been too busy with touring in 2019. The Scandinavian tour had fallen through in April and the US tour in the fall was costing us too much money — the absurd amount of paperwork and scandalous costs to secure the visas were enough for me to never ever go through it again, and to make matters worse, days before the tour, Niels’s mother-in-law had tragically lost her long battle to cancer, and we had to play the first couple of shows without a bass player.
It was a real challenge and highly stressful, and while we made it work it wasn’t the same for me. When we got home, writing something with tension and intensity felt like the natural thing to do.
CH: God Is An Astronaut is, of course, not at all a new project, but behind this new album, are there new inspirations of any sort that emerged for the band? What are some of the elements that propelled you into making this record?
TK: We knew at the beginning we wanted this album to be very up-tempo, especially after our last album.
Niels had written some high-paced, distorted, punk-influenced bass lines that became a starting point for a few of the songs; we wanted the record to have some intricate timing signatures and unique arrangements with twists and turns to keep the listener guessing and engaged. With all the time off, we reshaped our sound — we finally had the chance to go back and experiment with amps and pedals, and we were very pleased with the sound and sold the digital amp modellers.
The new sound is rawer, more expressive and it’s definitely inspired some of the noise-driven lines. We stacked different combinations of pedals running into each other which created some really interesting and unique tones. We wanted to keep the focus on the live instrumentation and less on the electronic textures.
Past Experiences and Thoughts for the Future
CH: Looking back across the history of the band, has your experience of the creative process changed over the years to get smoother — or anything else? If so, in what way(s)?
TK: Rather than changing the process we continue to expand it. We have written songs on a Piano, Synths, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Drums, Mandolin, Effected Vocals, heavily Effected Synths and Guitars, and we have created songs from Atmospheres and Noisescapes. Unlike our previous material, these songs were rehearsed as band before it was recorded, and that definitely further influenced the sound, writing and arrangements.
CH: Going forward, are there particular musical areas or ideas that you’re interested in exploring in the future?
TK: We will continue to focus on a rawer tone for the future and will be releasing two live albums this year in run up to our 20 year anniversary. Currently I’m also enjoying playing the acoustic guitar, so perhaps acoustic renditions of some of our songs could be an idea for a small limited release.
CH: A lighter question — what sorts of music have you been connecting with lately, of any style? What has your listening rotation been like?
TK: I don’t know if this is unusual but when you play and write your own music and you’re working hard on it, listening to more music after a long day was the last thing I wanted to do. I would only analyse it and break it down into fine detail rather than just enjoy it. Listening to other music is something I mostly try to avoid now.
Watching a movie or going for a hike was more helpful for me to switch off.