A Choir Of Ghosts – An Ounce Of Gold
We’ve all been told for as long as we can remember not to judge a book by its cover, but even now I still find myself falling foul of the far lesser known adage “don’t judge an album by its singles”. If I had a tenner for every time I got excited about a record, only to find that none of the other songs lived up to the standard set by the singles, then I could be chilling on my own private island right about now. Albums that are crammed with filler tracks; songs that are not necessarily bad per se, but just end up failing to capture your imagination.
Sadly the debut album from Swedish based folk artist James Auger (under his moniker A Choir Of Ghosts) falls under this banner. In fact it is a part of the most frustrating sub-category of said albums, those that could have been so much better with just a few minor tweaks. An Ounce Of Gold starts in fine form. An elegant instrumental intro leads into the gothic majesty of ‘Sinner in Rapture’, which combines a dark and mystical aura with uplifting orchestral swells and an infectious sing-your-heart-out chorus. Much of the record does not follow its lead, instead taking a much more restrained approach, but there are still moments of brilliant to be found. The title track has a charming light and breezy energy with some gorgeous harmonies to boot, ‘Southwest of the Moon’ has a rare sweetness to it that really helps the stripped back arrangement shine in this instance, ‘Better Off Alone’ is a delightful little duet and ‘The Water’ stands tall as both the album’s vocal and lyrical high point.
Despite this ‘The Water’ is also a fine example of where this record goes wrong. At the song’s heart lies a quiet interlude consisting of nothing more than some simple acoustic strumming, a section so unremarkable that you wonder whether something more interesting was meant to be playing over the top but it got left out of the final cut by accident. When listened to in context with the rest of the album however you see that much of the record consists of just vocals and repetitive acoustic arrangements with little uniqueness or character to them. In a strange way it would have been better if the whole album was like this, as then we wouldn’t realise what was missing. We get such divine snippets of strings, harmonies and choral arrangements, diverse moods and energies broadening the scope of the record, all painting a picture of what this album could have been. If even just a handful of the filler tracks had been build upon and had a bit more life breathed into them this could have been in contention for my top ten albums of the year.
It’s disheartening that this album turned out to be An Ounce of Gold buried in the rubble, but I remain optimistic for future releases. A Choir Of Ghosts produced a few nuggets of truly dazzling folk on this record, and while they weren’t quite build upon enough here there’s no reason why they can’t be in the near future. This isn’t the great album I hoped it would be but James Auger certainly still has one in him. First albums aren’t meant to be perfect, they are just meant to be the first step on a long journey. Making great art is a marathon not a sprint, and there’s every chance in the world to catch up after a slow start.