When duo Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel first unleashed 'Hold On' upon the world as Holy Ghost! I was a little bit awestruck. It is pretty much the perfect modern house record - a nod to label mates LCD Soundsystem in the rock song structure and snappy, live sounding percussion combined with a brilliantly restrained shuffling bassline and synth combo that managed to turn up just as Italo was tipping over. Even the lyrics somehow manage to transcend what are actually pretty conventional sentiments - some how the formulaic "Hold on, hold tight" chorus felt edgy when pressed up against that killer couplet: "I love this city but I hate my job".
For me nothing else the duo have done has quite lived up to that moment. The Static On The Wire EP had some moments - the catchy if slightly sterile track it takes it's name for starters, however it was second single 'I Will Come Back' (also on that EP) that really suggested there was more to come.
Here we are then, some four years on from 'Hold On'. Whilst that track appears here alongside 'Static On The Wire', 'I Will Come Back' is sadly only notable by its absence. It's a peculiar omission given that this album is just ten tracks long, clocking in at under fifty minutes. Regardless - what you have is a solid selection of vocal house tracks that more-or-less all hit the mark. 'Dot It Again' opens things on an even footing with a serviceable if risk-averse number - it is undoubtedly Holy Ghost! at their most commercial.
It is the album's middle that delivers though. The exposed sound of the vocals on 'Hold My Breath' when the melody all but completely drops away, the lyrics pushed out with a rapid insistence as though the singer is all to conscious they are running out of time. An ode to label mate and friend Jerry Fuchs, 'Jam For Jerry' is the perfect bittersweet electro-pop record. The vocals betray a certain guilty feeling at Fuchs' untimely death - "I've got the feeling I've done / something half wrong / it surrounds me, it drowns me in it". Paired with an undeniably sparkly melody it feels like the sound of the party going on whilst everyone there struggles to come to terms with what has happened and the result sounds like pure New Order: I'm unhappy but I'm still dancing
From there the album flows in to 'Hold On', and then on to 'Slow Motion', which stands out with it's drum-heavy breaks before closing on 'Static On The Wire' and 'Some Children'. The latter incorporating a chorus of children singing that feels like it aims to add a bit of soul but sadly just over complicates things - the duo are at their best when stripped back and left to their own devices.
As a debut this proves Holy Ghost! Are more than just a one hit wonder. Four years in the making means it suffers slightly from the burden of expectation though and I can't help but with there was just a bit more to discover here.
Holy Ghost! is out now on DFA, available from Amazon.co.uk on CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].