There is something about buying music on spec, i.e., without ever having heard it. (It is also, let's face it, getting harder and harder for the music tragic not to get full access to an album for nothing, often enough before it has even come out.) But so it was with "Intensity Ghost", the new, actually the first, album by Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band. I had an inkling it would be good. My recent gaze has been drifting towards new American guitar music, from the likes of Steve Gunn, Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker, and, at the other end of what might or might not be a spectrum, bands like Quilt and Woods.
Forsyth came to my notice a couple of years back with "Solar Motel", an ostensibly solo instrumental rock "suite" (ahem) for which he put together a band that then, thank the stars, morphed into an actual thing. "Intensity Ghost" came out late last year, but my first exposure to The Solar Motel Band was at the start of 2015, with a session for Aquarium Drunkard in which they covered songs by Richard Thompson and The Dream Syndicate. (They are still there. Check them out.) This made sense: there seems to be a new-found reverence these days amongst the Americans for Thompson-era Fairport Convention, while a nod or two to The Dream Syndicate can be found in the songs of Quilt, for starters.
The Dream Syndicate influence is all over "Intensity Ghost", along with another band much more popular now than when they were together, Television. (The third track on the album, "I Ain't Waiting", not only has a title that is pure Tom Verlaine, it has Tom Verlaine weeping from its every guitar line: it's as if Television had reformed and re-located to Woodstock.)
But that's not what we're here for. "The Ballad of Freer Hollow", which makes its statement over eleven and a half minutes, kicks off the album. Here "Intensity Ghost" departs somewhat from its forebears. The accepted wisdom used to be that if you were going to build a song up to epic length (especially in the days when cracking the four minute mark would leave you open to cries of "Kill the hippie!"), you would plant it somewhere around the middle of the album. "Marquee Moon", obviously. But also, to get back to The Dream Syndicate, "John Coltrane Stereo Blues", which takes centre spot on side two of "Medicine Show". "Intensity Ghost", on the other hand, boldly throws its longest song front and centre. It is saying, Here is what we can do. Take it or leave it.
Reader, I took it.