“I believe in second chances….I don’t think I was ever given a chance to begin with. I believe in taking the time to find yourself” — Sky Ferreira, in an interview with The Phoenix, November 2012
I have to admit — when I saw the picture of Sky Ferreira’s face on the cover of her latest EP, Ghost — I immediately recognized her, but in the way that you’d recognize “that girl from that picture in [place random edgy fashion magazine name here]”… or in my case, a random episode of Pop Up Video which showcased the then 16-year-old in a saccharine-induced Pop coma that was the track “Obsession” — and a random cameo by Michael Madsen. Either way, the girl that I saw then was rather forgettable, another product of the factory-style manufacturing of Pop music.
Despite such disappointing beginnings, when her amuse-bouche-style EP played its way through my playlist — and had me do an aural double-take — I felt I needed to give her a second chance.
To do just that, it takes an ounce of patience and a discerning eye — there are many bits of information to sort your way through in a quest to find out just who this girl is. Agreed statement of facts: 20 years old, born and raised in LA, abnormally interesting looks which continually score modelling work for obscure and mainstream fashion magazines, thanks to a Brazilian, Portuguese and Native American heritage. On the advice of a family friend by the name of Michael Jackson, Sky cut her musical teeth in Gospel music and Opera lessons. Uploads music to MySpace, gets the attention of Swedish production duo Bloodsky and Avant (guilty of writing/producing guilty pleasure Britney Spears’ “Toxic”), gets signed to a record deal with EMI at 15. Releases As If!, a valiant effort of a first album that fails to resonate with an audience. Fast forward past several shelved efforts and a few years later, where we now find the still very young Ferreira jaded by the music industry, in possession of a solid EP, and a message for those who may have ever doubted her: “This is me, my way”.
Though only 5 songs long, Ghost is a showcase of musical styles, emotions and experiments that Ferreira has undertaken on her own terms with the help of trusted friends and colleagues such as Jon Brion, Shirley Manson and Ariel Rechtshaid. Though “Lost in My Bedroom” pays homage to her Electro-Pop roots, the overall feel of Ghost shows a distinct uprooting, taking us along for the ride in search of a musical identity. We hear elements of indie rock, country, acoustic ballads, and catchy dance-pop — evidence that versatility, rarely seen in today’s predictable mainstream music scene, is part of Ferreira’s musical arsenal. With that, here are my personal picks from Ghost.
“Sad Dream”, for me anyway, was a rather odd choice to start the EP but that’s not to say that this song wasn’t a great one. A slow, airy acoustic ballad, it’s a strikingly simple departure from what we might expect at the beginning of an EP, but with delicate lyricism and gentle guidance from Jon Brion, this song manages to capture the listener’s attention right from the jump, especially with the familiar notes of Fiona Apple (one of Ferreira’s self-noted influences). Soft guitars lead us into Ferreira’s soft, yet pronounced voice, outlining faded hope for a particular love, resigning herself to the likelihood that such love may never be:
Only ever in dream I wrap my arms around you/
And standing in the water with me/
I can tell what I wanna tell you/
And I hope it’s not just a bad dream/
Hope it’s not just a sad dream/
The fact that there’s not too much going on here except a pair of guitars, a voice and a simple yet relatable set of lyrics is enough to keep my attention (and yours too), just to see what may linger beyond such a different choice for an EP start.
Once you hear the loud, pulsing chords on the chorus of “Red Lips”, you immediately hear the heavy influence of collaborator Shirley Manson (of Garbage); in fact on first listen, one might think that this was a song that Ferreira stole from a Garbage recording session and kept for herself, but I think she uses such influence to make her own personal style and statement. An airy yet edgy voice cuts through simple drums and guitar interludes, contrasting between eerie calm and lashing out. In fact, on closer examination of the lyrics, it’s clear that this is a manifesto against the image created by the music industry, toward which she is increasingly outspoken, during many of her interviews:
Red lips/you’re ten a penny/cheap shot/spreading your legs for the boys/watch out/cause someone will beat you the same
If you get a chance to check out the video for “Red Lips” on YouTube, do so — Terry Richardson “paints” an interesting union of the music and lyrics using Ferreira’s version of a makeup tutorial.
Ghost ends with a throwback to 80s style dance pop, “Everything Is Embarrassing” (co-written by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes and “Climax” producer Ariel Rechtshaid), flavoured with elements of Madonna, Debbie Gibson, Janet Jackson and a hint of Cyndi Lauper. Through the interweaving of long-phrase synthesizers, base riffs and that tell-tale sign of 80s pop, the drum kit, this song, closes the full circle of unrequited love that seems to work its way through most of Ghost. The beat is just so catchy and the hook so instantaneously stuck in your head that you don’t really listen to the words, and instead think of what movie soundtrack this might be a part of, or the cool-sounding hipster soundtrack to your oh-so-glamorous life (even if it’s only remotely so).
A versatile offering of varying flavours, sounds, moods and images, Ghost is a good reason to give sky Ferreira a second chance and look forward to her upcoming full length album, I’m not Alright (due early 2013). Though it borrows tactics from many influences and even such practices decried by Ferreira herself, the EP still breaks away from the pack, showcasing an identity that she has had a significant hand in creating her way, in her own time, while also managing to break away from the ‘same-old’ pack. Play it to clear your palate of the mainstream. Dance, feel and sing along accordingly. Rinse and repeat.
Purchase: Sky Ferreira – Ghost E.P (iTunes)