Ghost Robot Ninja Bear – self-titled LP

Ghost Robot Ninja Bear coverIt’s a source of some pleasure for me that, even as I wind up Nostalgia For Infinity’s lengthy stint as a full-time music reviewing site (if you can call 2/3 reviews a week “full time” – although coming from just one guy, I suppose the description is fair), I’m able to return to artists I’ve previously subjected to my words and thoughts. And here’s Ghost Robot Ninja Bear, the ‘new’ project from Oscar Albis Rodriguez – a man who has, in the past, played with luminaries such as Nakatomi Plaza, Ludlow Lions and, er, The Dexter Lake Club Band, “NYC’s premier wedding band”. Well, maybe weddings in NYC are way cooler than they are here in Sussex.

I last reviewed the excellently and absurdly named GRNB in September ’10 when I took a look at an EP rounding up a collection of singles from the preceding year; I was duly impressed. Rodriguez is a man with some chops, a fact which – even if not immediately obvious from his impressive songwriting – becomes clear when you recognise that the band features numerous other musicians, mostly drawn from bands with which Rodriguez has had some involvement in the past. And yet so few people mention them! So hey, shout outs to Geoff Kraly, Gunnar Olson, Jordan Melkin, Brendan Coon and Al Fair (I particularly dig Bridge & Tunnel, so extra kudos to that dude).

So here we have GRNB’s first full-length release, and it’s an impressive collection of tunes. As with the earlier EP and singles the songs on offer are fundamentally poppy but technically considered and proficient; despite being catchy and immediate they’re possessed of delightful depth. ‘The Curtain Call’, for example, has a strong 90s EpiFat punk rock vibe to it, laying down staccato rhythms in the verse and marrying the vocal delivery to that, with more straightforward choruses to keep things powering forwards. And yet even within a song so obviously, straightforwardly pop-punk, there’s impressive use of dynamics and digital effects to spice up the mix.

Lyrically they ain’t no slouch either. “Big Brother on the outside door wants in / But doors swing both ways” goes ‘Watching Me Watching You’, skewering contemporary media culture even as the song demonstrates a playful self-awareness: “we’re the last to the party”. Elsewhere, ‘In the Helium Mines’ manages to recall Coheed & Cambria but without driving me to the sort of frothing rage that only a band with the pomposity to title an album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness can evoke. Yeah, ‘In the Helium Mines’ makes me remember the first time I encountered Coheed: via the daft Flash game Emo Game, which endlessly looped the best riff from Coheed’s ’33 1/3′: the guitar work on offer here is almost equally hooky.

It is, ultimately, the versatility of Ghost Robot Ninja Bear that stands out the most, and here is the reason why most reviews probably do tend to focus on Rodriguez. He’s presumably the main creative force within the band, and the songs present on this self-titled record demonstrate that he can pull off diverse material with panache – ably supported by his band. An outfit that is as easy with anthemic, catchy songs as it is with technically impressive musicianship and songwriting is a band that knows when to exercise restraint – moderation that can only be to the benefit of songs, which are what deserve to take centre stage here, for they are worth your time.

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