RVA Bandcamp Of The Week: Black Sheep EP by GHOSTS

Black Sheep EP – GHOSTS

At what point do we start to call a musician prolific? It’s a conversation worth having, sure, although in the case of local lo-fi rocker Caleb Hoehner, it’s pretty clear what the answer is… and it has been for a while now.

Under the name GHOSTS, Hoehner has put out nearly a dozen releases on Bandcamp since the summer of 2012, ranging from demos that offer an onslaught of compressed fuzz to a full length collection of dynamic melodies and reflective lyrics.

Despite this, Hoehner doesn’t take himself too seriously, offering cheeky and simple lines like “”I’m just an ugly kid / I’ve got an ugly brain” or bluntly naming a record I Don’t Know What I’m Doing. Self-deprecating sure, but it also reveals the modest charm of his work, with songs built around basic guitar parts that are instantly infectious as well as thoughts that seem to aimlessly stumble onto improbable epiphanies.

On GHOSTS’ latest release, Black Sheep EP, Hoehner embraces this form of unlikely brilliance, resulting in moments that offer genuine and incredible surprises for those who have followed his work since 2012. The onset of the EP offers a beefed up version of the slacker rock he’s dabbled in at times, with relaxed guitar hooks, semi-monotonous verses, and addictive choruses that either playfully sedate the melody or boldly invade it. Together, the two opening tracks, “Black Sheep” & “Do You Remember?,” play out as a prolonged introduction, cautiously setting the table before track 3 emphatically and dramatically clears it.

Shitty Fucking Birthday” starts with a bang as Hoehner welcomes you to his frustration with a catchy, almost derisive singalong. “Bah bah bah, bah dah dah,” he belts before earnestly airing grievance after grievance aimed at someone who seems to have listened to Lesley Gore a little too much in their youth. Damning, honest, and hilarious, his words elevate the abrasive sound making the song instantly relatable and unforgettable. “I never wanted to be at your stupid party / and now I hope you have a shitty fucking birthday / I sold your present so that I could go get baked / I made your birthday wish and ate icing off your cake.” Joining these gruff and scathing observations are two fantastic and wildly different melodies, a combination that flaunts Hoehner’s songwriting skill leaving “Shitty Fucking Birthday” towering above the vast majority of GHOSTS songs from the last five years.

Other highlights on the record include EP closers “Please Don’t Be Mad” and “Lullaby,” two songs that Hoehner uses to test the boundaries of the GHOSTS aesthetic. The focused brevity and driving melody of “Please Don’t Be Mad” are instantly rewarding, but underneath them is a shuffling, bouncy rhythm that’s rare in GHOSTS’ back catalog. For many of his songs, the drums serve subserviently to the more rounded guitar and lyrics, yet here (and on past songs like “Drunk Text (No Reply)“), the drums break out of this serfdom and take a more prominent role. Still ancillary, yes, but more prominent, making the song instantly stand out even though it’s the shortest on the EP.

Lullaby” tackles the same idea, though with a slightly different approach. While the previous track expands on the rhythm with a fast-paced, organic pound, “Lullaby” settles into a more restrained and manufactured beat. The guitar takes direction from the beat this time around, losing itself in the intimate reverb and fighting for prominence as the drum clicks and pops its way into the forefront. It’s not reinventing the wheel in a GHOSTS sense, but it does let you know that Hoehner is cognizant of how to expand his sound, and willing to play with different backdrops and foundations in order to achieve something fresh while still being memorable.

With his 11th release, it’s clear Hoehner has settled into a comfortable songwriting groove, one able to effortlessly churn out strong song after song. But what makes Black Sheep so striking is his ability to still enhance on this groove with tact and aplomb, an ability that will make any of his future releases instant favorites for those who listen. Make sure to keep your ear turned in his direction too – you never know when his next release is on its way, or just what direction GHOSTS will float