Bands We Like: Holy Ghost!

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By Zachary Swickey

It’s hard to argue that Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, who collectively form Holy Ghost!, weren’t destined to make music together. The duo met at ages 7 and 6, respectively, and their musical kinship grew right along with their burgeoning friendship. Their debut album is a catchy-as-hell throwback to the disco pop sounds of yesteryear, and we have become quite enamored with the new group, who hail from the Big Apple.

Millhiser and Frankel grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and met in elementary school. Their musical endeavors first began in fourth grade during an elective rock band class, where they found themselves playing covers of classics like “Lean on Me.” Their love for the rap of the mid-to-late ‘90s led them to create Automato in their high school years. The group even got a record deal and released an album in 2004. Unfortunately, the rap crew soon dissolved, but they met a key person along the way, James Murphy, the mastermind behind now-defunct LCD Soundsystem.

A few years later, Millhiser and Frankel formed Holy Ghost!, a departure from the duo’s original hip-hop sound. The friends slowly but surely began writing and laying the groundwork for a full-length album, while also dabbling in remixes on the side. In keeping with their quirky personalities, the guys released a cassette-only mixtape that was a round-up of several remixes they had worked on, including the likes of Cut Copy, MGMT and Datarock. The duo signed to indie label DFA Records, founded by none other than the previously-mentioned James Murphy, and earlier this April, released their long-awaited debut album.

Listening to Holy Ghost!’s self-titled record, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been transported to a disco roller rink of the ‘70s or ‘80s (I can see the feathered hair now). Any of the album’s tracks would be well-suited by a music video featuring clips from “Saturday Night Fever.” That’s not to say that Holy Ghost! are simply nostalgic music replicators – they are anything but – rather the duo is able to give a modern day pop sound and production sensibility to familiar-feeling music.

I was surprised to learn that their album is sample-free, for the most part, which is a feat in today’s ever-increasing music licensing environment. It’s no surprise that Holy Ghost! are influenced by the sounds of Talking Heads and Brian Eno – the textures on tracks like “Do It Again” and “Some Children” are reminiscent of the digital bleeps and blurps that Eno is notorious for. The sonic guitar hooks on “It’s Not Over” and “Static on the Wire” are album highlights and bring back memories of Depeche Mode.

Did I mention Michael McDonald makes a guest appearance on the album. (You know, the guy who drives Paul Rudd mad with his live DVD on repeat in “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”) Simply put, Holy Ghost! have captured our love of the past and repackaged it in modern-day form. You can catch them this summer at the Identity Festival – a touring music fest that solely features digital acts.