How one understands Plain as Ghosts will depend largely on how they contextualize its brand of thunderously precise rock. If well versed in the unfortunate mid-2000s reign of Theory of a Deadman or Hinder, it’s difficult not to hear traces of that testosterone-fuelled radio-rock in Plain as Ghosts’s cleanly produced rumble.
However, the association is fleeting and not entirely accurate, a sort of immediate knee-jerk mental connection tied to this particular style of rock — thick slabs of shining buffed guitar, simple rhythmic accompaniment and an emo-inflected vocal delivery that verges occasionally on the theatrical.
In reality, Plain as Ghosts has as much aesthetic commonality with those bands as it does with ’90s alternative groups like the Dismemberment Plan and Jawbox. However, their riffs are driving and in near constant motion, and their subject matter and tone lean more introspective and emotional than they do the wannabe party-rock of Theory of a Deadman’s “Lowlife.” Songs like “Ceaseless,” on Plain as Ghosts’s new EP, display a knottier incarnation of their laser-cut sound, a downtempo tangle of guitar and tumbling drums that adds a shade of quietude to Sleepless Shadow’s driving onslaught.
The band manages to sneak some genuine complexity into what, on first listen, may come across as aggressively clean rock music. The spaced-out double guitar solo on “You are Heaven,” the way the riff pans from one ear to the next on opening highlight “Safety Pin” and the caustic simmer of the title track all contribute moments of much-needed variety to this brief EP. It’s a testament to their craft that they’re able to create a sound with such potentially wearying forebears without having it tip into macho-schmaltz.
It’s the guitar in particular that impresses — folding in tones of metal, emo, grunge and alt-rock, the riffs are consistently invigorating and rather beautiful, the kind that hit like a roiling tide, coloured by small details and textures that keep them alive and in constant motion without becoming obnoxiously virtuosic or self-indulgent.
Plain as Ghosts knows its way around a hook, and the EP is catchy and raucous in equal measure — a satisfactorily tight and melodic collection of songs.
It will likely still have too much sheen for those looking for more grit in their meat-and-potatoes rock, but for anyone aching for a more intelligent and intentional take on heaving riffs and radio-rock melodicism, Sleepless Shadow should do the trick.