Album Review: Small Ghosts Debut EP, “Bleed”

Small Ghosts is a great band and one that works spectacularly well live. All four members throw themselves into the songs in a way that makes it impossible not to be drawn in. With Bleed, their first EP, they demonstrate that they also work well in the studio. Across seven songs, they hit different areas of their sound with enough clarity and production to make it undeniably a studio outing while still maintaining some of the energy of their live sets. The release also shows how well they function as a group.

Photo of Small Ghosts (James Joseph, Asa Morris, Jade "Machine" MacDuff, E.S. Cormac)

The record kicks off with two songs credited to all four members “Why’s it Have to Be So Obscene” (also the lead single) and “I Don’t Need Yr Goddamned Love Songs.” If you want an idea of what Small Ghosts is all about, you can’t do better than listening to these two tracks (although if you stop after these two, you will be missing out, so don’t do that). Both songs have a simplicity and directness to them, with relatively stripped-down lyrics and straightforward instrumentation, but they’re far from bland or uninteresting.

“Obscene” kicks off with a quick guitar riff before everything else comes crashing in – the band wasted no time letting you know what you’re in for. A few times in the song, they pull back on the reins, and things slow down for a minute, and these little breaks in the otherwise relentless pace of the song help to highlight the energy of the rest of the track. The lyrics (sung by Asa Morris) hint at the all too human need to be seen and heard: “Even when there’s nothing to say / I just need to scream out,” and the song doesn’t give you any chance not to hear.

“Love Songs” begins with a count-in from drummer James Joseph, which brings me back to one of the best things about this album: it does an excellent job of capturing the live sound of the band. It can be hard to translate a great live band to the studio; there’s an energy to a live show that can’t be replicated without the room and the people, but on Bleed, Small Ghosts manage to strike a good balance. This song (the other collaborative composition on the album) highlights all four members in a way that really hints at what makes this group special. Jade “Machine” MacDuff’s bassline on this track is one of my favorite pieces of the entire album; Joseph throws in fun fills on top of the generally relentless march that makes up the majority of the track. Morris and E. S. Cormac both deliver brash vocals and aggressive guitar lines that match the sentiment of the simple lyrics (the gist is right there in the title).

"Bleed" album art

From here on out, the rest of the tracks are older songs by Morris, and there are definitely clear distinctions to be seen. The lyrics here skew more introspective and sad, and there are more of them. The songs don’t have the same relentless pace. All that being said, for anyone familiar with the previous incarnations of these songs, the fingerprints of Morris’s Small Ghosts band members are all over the tracks presented here.

“I’m in Love with the Death” stays pretty stripped-down early on. Still, after a few repetitions of the line “I’m taking everyone down with me,” the crush of sound from the earlier songs returns, with Cormac delivering some great leads over the instrumental coda. “Oh, I Know,” begins on an even more mellow note. The lyrics seem to describe a relationship on the brink of dissolving (“Jesus Christ I know / You could go / You always find new ways to remind me”). When the vocals end and the heavy instrumental ending begins, it feels like the inevitable conclusion to the story.

“Away We Go” is a weighty song, and the oppressive knowledge of the chorus (“I know you don’t need me”) seems to carry through on the heavier instrumentation that extends throughout. Toward the end of the song, Morris sings “I could pretend I just don’t notice,” but the chorus returns with even more energy. Once again, the band wields their instruments like a hammer, reinforcing the fact that the narrator can’t simply will this knowledge out of their mind.

Things pick up again as far pace and energy with “Disappear,” which feels closest to the newer full-band compositions of the older songs on the release. The band is going full-steam again, and the repeated cries of “I might disappear” seem to be fulfilled as the song goes on, with Morris’s voice nearly swallowed by the instruments and the additional vocals of Cormac, ultimately dropping out entirely as a fuzzed-out guitar line closes out the song. The album’s closer, “Come Back,” leans more into the slow, almost doomy side of the band again. Unlike earlier songs, this one looks back from the other side of the divide, and the tension has already broken. The instruments build throughout, adding a sense of hopelessness and desperation to the repetition of the title. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but the sonic darkness of the ending doesn’t suggest the plea will be heeded.

If you want to hear the full seven tracks, you’ll have to grab the album on CD or find it on Bandcamp, but you can hear a shortened version of it (the first and last two tracks) on streaming services. This four-track variant doesn’t give you the full experience, but it still serves as a solid introduction to a great local band. Bleed captures the first chapter of the Small Ghosts story well, and hints at where they might go in the future.

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