I am the man with the St Tropez Tan ( a name that simply trips off the tongue), is the pseudonym for Rick Senley, a depressingly talented individual who plays an array of instruments over the course of this album that more-or-less make him a one-man mini orchestra, let alone band. ‘Just a ghost’ is a work of eerie contemplation and warm, blissed out synth that skitters and meanders in a manner that recalls ‘U.F.O’ by the Orb crossbred with Aphex Twin’s monstrous symphonies of insanity.
Opening with a short introduction that takes Chris Morris’ ‘Blue Jam’ as its cue, we discover that “in France you can’t call your pig Napoleon” before the album proper starts with the curiously muted, sub-industrial noise of ‘please be careful what you do with yourself’, a threatening, cymbal-heavy trip into a world of heavily compressed beats, throbbing bass and rave synths filtered through a PCP nightmare. ‘Breaking’ once more sees that ‘blue jam’ feel rear its twisted head, the sound filtered through ghostly effects that are part ‘Ummagumma’-era Pink Floyd, part visionary trip onto the platforms of Hell’s own train station. Nothing can be taken for granted here, and the cacophony of noises slowly builds into a tightly orchestrated wall of sound that threatens to overwhelm the listener, making the transition to ‘just a ghost’ something of a relief even if it does sound like a remix of a learner trying to work out ‘there she goes’ on the guitar while internal voices plague their consciousness.
It’s fair to say that little on ‘just a ghost’ is conventional. The echoing figures and darkly muttered voices forge a relative cohesion, but each vignette is subtly different, making the album a collection of unique and often troubling experiences that can be absorbed as a whole or dipped into at will. ‘Tea for me’, for example, is a moment of almost sublime beauty, with a strangely child-like motif that recalls tea parties in sunny gardens held before the days of ubiquitous electronic distractions for the young. It has a stunning naivety that is hard to pull off, and yet here it proves stunningly evocative. ‘Southend’ shows that it couldn’t last, however, and from the sun-dappled beauty of the previous track, we move into a harrowing passage of darkness filled with echoing screams and the sounds of damnation. It is a stylistic lurch that instantly raises the hairs on the back of the neck and leaves the listener feeling charged with the adrenalin of indefinable fear. Bizarrely ‘knives of death’ is far less menacing and returns to the echoing feel of Orb-esque ambient, all half-heard voices and warm synth noise. ‘Matt, Matt, Matt’ has an industrial feel to its heavily distorted beat, offering up a mix of The Terminator’s harsh score and an Aphex Twin remix project. Dark, unsettling, and metallic it is short and shot through with bleak, hard to decipher sounds that suggest insanity is but a hair’s breadth away. ‘Does anyone know what’s going on?’ suggests that no-one knows anything, and then ’there is no death’ fills the air with the sound of bagpipes and guitars being brutally tortured before a final synth blast closes the album on an amphetamine rush that is as unexpected as it is convoluted.
‘Just a Ghost’ is not an album for everyone. In some senses the ambiguous structures and disjointed sounds form the very antithesis of what those raised in a traditional manner might consider to be music. However, for those who revel in the ambient excursions of the left-field ambient movement, or for those love of music produced as art does not limit them to analogue instrumentation only, ‘just a ghost’ is a record that warrants thorough investigation. Sitting out, far from the mainstream, ‘just a ghost’ captures the adventurous spirit of the orb, before they gave up sampling Pink Floyd and simply recruited David Gilmour, and throws in a hefty dose of Channel Four-style psychedelia in the vein of Chris Morris at his most outré. It is, at times, unnerving stuff, but with patience and repeated listens it proves itself to be an album of depth and intelligence which offers no small amount of pleasure to the listener who enjoys being challenged by the music they listen to.