There’s a review on the front of Ghost Outfit’s debut album, 879 words shorter than this one, from a fictional character called Atrocity Boy. It declares I Want You To Destroy Me “SWAYS’ first masterpiece”. It’s a bold statement, but there are no rules on what you can’t do if you’re not real.
Technically speaking – with this being SWAYS Records’ first full-length release - it is the only opportunity they’ve had to produce a “masterpiece”. After nurturing the talents of M O N E Y and G R E A T W A V E S (who were subsequently taken under the omnipotent wing of Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde) the self-appointed “cultural regenerators” found a kindred spirit in Ghost Outfit’s Jacq Hardman and Mike Benson.
As with all of SWAYS’ endeavors, I Want You To Destroy Me was recorded in a disused bag factory in post-industrial Salford. The affectionately christened Führer Bunker shares a postcode with the prison formerly known as Strangeways and looks as if Friedrich Engels would give it a wide berth. Cosy, then. The product of the union concerns itself with the degeneration of the self as much as the label concerns itself with the regeneration of anything cultural.
The parallels between the record and the fictitious appraisal on its cover become clear when you hear that the album itself is not anchored in a tangible reality. Any modicum of normalcy has been heightened above that which registers on a conventional scale. I Want You To Destroy Me pushes beyond the frequencies of emotion detectable by the human ear, the point where neither end of the spectrum is differentiable from the other. Blinding elation occupies the same space as rapturous agony. The tandem forces aren’t mutually exclusive; one necessitates the other.
When choosing to depart from meat-and-two-veg guitar music, most musicians find themselves jumping off the same cliff. Countless have leaped into that lukewarm sea of synth and glitter, letting the waves wash over them. Fantastical smokescreens, half-arsed fuzz and an air of the supernatural are the new safe. Everyone’s a witch, or a cultist, or infinite. With I Want You To Destroy Me, Ghost Outfit are going the other way. They are retreating inland, thriving off their own mortality. Via the Führer Bunker, they’re tunneling deep under mountains of granite and noise in an act of insular self-sabotage.
To exemplify this particular strain of claustrophobic angst, there is ‘W A S T E’. It’s the third track in, and the preoccupation is already that of annihilation. Lyrically, “It starts when I hate you” hints at a twisted relationship with sentimentality that writhes its way through the album. “Wasting away” the chorus goes, over and over again, the words traversing a craggy landscape of sandpaper riffs. The song actively spars with itself; a reverence for melody is commendably upheld despite the sustained onslaught from the elements, weather-beating it to near oblivion.
On a tangential note, the video to ‘W A S T E’ is an extra visual clue as to their compulsively tormented state. Frontman Jacq Hardman thrashes around a subterranean cell, mascara running down his face like a morning-after babe mid-breakdown. You can almost hear him tearing his hair out.
It’s not sadism, nor is it voyeurism. It exists at a point of complete consumption within a relationship at the expense of oneself. U2 once wrote a song along similar lines – about the paradox of pleasure and pain - but it wasn’t this good.
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to say it all gets a bit ‘Wuthering Heights’, a bit ‘Cathy and Heathcliff’ in parts: “I can forgive my murderer, but yours! How can I?”; “You said I killed you – haunt me, then”. Such lines paint a bleak picture of two troubled men, but comparing bands to literary anti-heroes makes it too easy to forget that they are bands. And it would be a fallacy to suggest Ghost Outfit are only happy when it rains.
The restorative qualities of ‘Lexicon’ are evidence of such lightness. It is an interlude of sorts (the official, nameless one is a few tracks before) that retreats from the calculated chaos of the rest of the record with glistening ease: a plain of quivering synth and echoes of barely-there vocalisations standing alone in the middle of the album, at the eye of the storm.
With characteristic disregard for the tides of logic, Ghost Outfit, or whomever they answer to at SWAYS, have closed the album with a song called ‘Kids’. We can only speculate as to the reasons. It might be a wry statement about the folly of youth and innocence in light of its willfully corruptive context. Perhaps it’s a riff on the idea of rebirth, the renovation of Ghost Outfit’s bulldozered hellscape. It might just be that some songs are written to open things; hearts, minds, once-in-a-lifetime sporting events or brand new shopping centres, and some songs are written to close things. ‘Kids’ could only ever be the latter. It purges the swollen turmoil of the album, but leaves you thinking they could begin the cycle of destruction over again, with just as much velocity.