Ben Mahony’s long-awaited full-length CD, Yukon Love Ghosts, is here.
A follow up to his Action/Reaction EP, which was recorded with his band The Big-Eyed Beans from Venus, this new album is a quieter, more mature effort showing off Mahony’s talent as a writer of catchy songs with highly literate lyrics.
The songs, written over a 13-year period, are largely acoustic, focusing on Mahony’s vocal and guitar. Some are fleshed out with electric guitar, bass (also Mahony, with help from Micah Smith and Kyle Cashen) and drums (Lonnie Powell and Stephen Reed). The result is an album of alternative folk and folk-rock songs.
It’s an interesting mix of songs and styles, recorded and produced by Chris Isaak at Bluestar Studios (Ten Years Tomorrow was recorded earlier by Jim Holland at Seaweed Studios). They range from solo acoustic performances such as As the Angel is Overcome to a full band on Set Your Heart.
It ends with the quirky, self-referential song, I Wrote You a Song in the Key of F, recorded with a tinny sound that feels like it was left on someone’s voice-mail. It also has the distinction of being the first I’ve ever heard that uses the word “oxytocin,” the hormone associated with feelings of love.
The song, Dark Wit of Winter, is a solo acoustic folk song, capturing the spirit of the Yukon, but with a darker edge. Written while he was, as he often says, the songwriter-in-residence at the Capital Hotel, it’s a collection of images of heavy drinking, while still searching for beauty.
The northern lights advertise tranquillity,
but you’ve got to find it on your own.
So here’s a free one,
you can find it if you’re stuck,
and I’ll pretend not to care
Mahony’s music isn’t all dark. Montreal is a dance song, with a driving New-Order-style bass and deliberate Auto-Tune distortion on his voice. Its lyrics, obviously written about his brief sojourn in the South, are marked by unusual observations, like:In the winter, I fell down in French.
Similarly, Silver is a lighthearted tribute to Sandy Silver, Mahony’s friend and noted Dawsonite. Set Your Heart and Fault Lines are folk-rock, relying on catchy electric guitar riffs that remind the listener of early R.E.M. and U2.
Mahony’s influences are showing all over this album. As the Angel is Overcomesounds a little like stripped-down Hole. Shade is an instrumental with surf-rock elements borrowed from Quentin Tarantino favourite, Dick Dale. And with the British accent he often sings, there are clear overtones of 1960’s pop.
If there’s something missing from the album, it’s chaos. Mahony, when playing live, manages to mix these softer songs with wilder covers that gets people on their feet. While I’m not expecting a recording of Kiss’ I Was Made for Lovin’ You, but some of that wild Big-Eyed Beans from Venus energy would be welcome.
Still, Yukon Love Ghosts is a great album from a mature songwriter.
Outstanding tracks: Fault Lines, Montreal