Rural Ghosts is Portland’s Erik Neilson, his guitar, and whatever recording equipment he could reasonably fit into his basement (that last part is just my assumption, of course).This self-titled lo-fi EP is a small but effective collection of dark folk songs defined by hypnotic melodies and Neilson’s own slightly-wavering voice which, while somewhat rustic in the folk tradition, manages to be just a bit unsettling with how sincere it can seem in one moment while being ethereal in another.
Rural Ghosts has a lot going for it, but it all boils down to this: the songs are invasive. They get inside your head and simply stick to your skull. There’s a feeling of vagueness to the lyrics that oddly work in their favor; of all the struggles Neilson sings about, none of them stumble in an attempt to be overly verbose. At his heart Neilson is definitely a pop writer with a fondness for keeping things simple, though every now and then he’ll throw a surprising image at you to keep you on your toes.
In the lullaby-like “Stranger in My Dreams” he sings “You’re a fixture in my dreams/Take pleasure in my screams.” Longing and regret is the framework of Neilson’s world, but neither emotion is taken to the extreme. Neilson carries himself with a calm that can be rather unnerving at times. Combine these elements with the occasional natural sound effects that are sprinkled sparsely throughout and you’ve got an uncertain atmosphere generated through subtlety.
In the end Rural Ghosts is disquieting, but delightfully so. We’re a far cry from gothic here, but there’s a good chance that the charms of the EP will haunt you.
Erik Neilson, who essentially is Rural Ghosts, makes a pretty good impression with this debut EP. There’s a surprising amount of defined identity and signature elements that make the record worth at least checking out due to the fact that, if Neilson plays his cards right, plenty of people will be singing his praises. This is the type of music that people do that for – it’s serious, introspective, sparse, and, while a little rough around the edges, very well performed. Neilson’s voice especially has something haunting about it when he sings in his range (which he often does) and gets almost Thom Yorke-ian when he switches into falsetto.
So while this is a good start, I want more. And I’m fairly certain Neilson is more than capable.
The album is mostly made up of single acoustic guitar and vocals with the occasional overdubbed additional acoustic track. Whenever this second guitar shows up, it’s obvious that the songs need more instrumentation, to add personality, to help differentiate between the tracks. I kept debating during the opening cut if I wanted drums to come in or not. After a couple of listens, I’m still pretty sure I’m happy that they don’t because they might bring what is supposed to be serious into hippie territory, but that doesn’t mean that the track, and others, still aren’t missing something.
Neilson has already garnered comparisons to Bon Iver and should take a cue from Mr. Vernon in the importance of arrangement. There doesn’t need to be a trio of dudes constantly backing him, but there should be some flavor – some percussion, the occasional piano, some strings, something. I also understand that this is supposed to be an intimate work, but you can fill out your sound without losing any intimacy. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine introduction, but my ears tell me it doesn’t sound finished.
If you’d like, you can buy a physical copy of Rural Ghost’s self-titled EP on Etsy for a mere $5. Or listen below. Or both. Do both.