In these chaotic times, I think we can all agree that sometimes it’s nice to let melancholy in and just stew in self-pity for a while. Where Do You Want Ghosts to Reside is simultaneously an escape from this self-inflicted misery and a way of facing it. The debut album of Polish prog rock quartet Fren, Ghosts is a world of pure emotion – sadness, anxiety, anticipation, but also hope, strength, and contentment. While it’s clear they take influence from classic prog bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Dream Theater, and Genesis, Fren don’t stop to mindlessly worship these, instead borrowing limbs from the old gods to create a benign, glowing deity of their own. Listening to Ghosts, it is obvious that Fren have created an album they themselves have always wanted to hear – and, coincidentally, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear, too.
“Twin Peaks”, the album’s opener, is a mournful soundscape that is also deeply relaxing, soothing my frayed nerves. By contrast, “Surge” lurches into gear with an anxious, lopsided riff, and weaves its way through passages of seeming relief and hope only to end up back in the dark forest of dissonance. The palette of tones is broad and extremely refined – everything has its place, from the driven bass tone at the start, through lush guitars, to the Hammond organ, all backed by charmingly boxy drums and dark cymbals. It all sounds so genuine, certainly not polished, not quantised, not perfect, but so, so human, so vividly real. Combine this with the extremely clever use of complex harmony, simple, lovely solos, and badass riffs, and you’ve got yourself one of the most delicious slices of prog pie you could hope for. And “Surge” is only the second track!
“Pleonasm” opens with a gorgeously innocent piano line, the notes shimmering like raindrops falling to the ground. It is soon joined by a sweet guitar (which takes the harmony) and very held-back bass, before expanding into a warming jazz section. All the instruments here are lovely, soothing even, the high register bass adding a feeling of fragility as the song relaxes into a drifting, cosmic scape of soothing chords à la Steven Wilson. Fren tease me with brooding chords that don’t resolve, lead me into an enchanted forest where guitar and piano float and dance, suspended for a moment amidst the sparkling silver and deep indigo of drums and bass.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Fren build and dissipate until finally they can’t hold back anymore and explode into a simple riff that becomes complex thanks to the ever-changing harmony behind it. This riff becomes a motif, appearing in various forms throughout the rest of the song, among richly harmonic jazz sections, tasteful guitar solos, spacious piano cadenzas, and triumphant builds. “Pleonasm” strips back to almost nothing, gentle piano and guitar exchanging melodies so modestly you can hear the drummer fiddling with his sticks in the background, until it expands into a fully-fledged unison riff before dying down for the last time, shimmering delay and reverb swallowing the solitary piano.
The cute, fusiony jam that is “Heavy Matter” wouldn’t usually be my cup of tea, but it makes me smile nonetheless. The bass playing here is simple, but extremely effective, piano and guitar again splashing colour on a canvas of mellotron flutes. The rhythmic, clockwork-like descending unison lines that intersperse the joyful jazz are a refreshing palate cleanser. “Heavy Matter” concludes with a ripping guitar solo in a landscape of Pink Floyd organ tones and fat piano and bass.
Where Do You Want Ghosts to Reside concludes with the warm and epic “Time To Take Stones Away”. An extensive, bluesy guitar solo ties together a dark, narrow riff and a triumphant hug of a section, before it gives way to an anxious piano line and assertive bass playing. The whole song is huge, hopeful, and dark, but not without contrast. Before its final climax, “Time To Take Stones Away” allows the listener to stew for a while in a simple guitar line and toms, spiced up by the occasional chord. The final build that follows is unlike anything else on Ghosts: it’s more gripping, Fren‘s energy reaching an ultimate peak before grounding once again in the familiar, proud opening. “Time To Take Stones Away” leaves me feeling renewed, stronger, and more self-assured.
Where Do You Want Ghosts to Reside is exactly what I needed, in precisely the way I wanted it. The amalgamation of old school prog influences into an album so gorgeously complex, but never overbearing or wanky is something I’ve been looking for withou realising. The attention to detail, even when the detail is an imperfection, is incredible. So many layers, working cohesively; the harmony rich, and all while retaining the perfect amount of humanity. This is a fantastic album that I was so close to missing out on – I suggest you don’t let this one get away.