Ghost of a Gentleman know how to start an album off right. The moment you press play, the first song and title track ‘Empty Room’ blasts the record into a barrage of of pummeling drums and spiraling guitars. It’s the sort of song that deals with the thoughts that haunt you for your whole life. “I’ve been thinking about it all of the time. Your words are the poison in my mind,” lead vocalist Conor Palecek sings on the chorus. Only this time around, it sounds like he may be finally confronting what he’s been haunting him.
Empty Room is the debut album by New Jersey-based rock band Ghost of a Gentleman. Unfortunately, calling them “rock” doesn’t really cut it as they incorporate elements from many different subgenres, including punk, pop-punk, post-hardcore, and even a little emo. Taking over 2 and a half years to record, this is an album of intense dedication, love, and pain.
The band is certainly in a different position today then where they were 2 and a half years ago. A big part of the story behind this record deals with loss, specifically the loss of the band’s former front man and lead singer, James Kelly. James died during the recording process of the album, quite obviously disrupting the band’s purpose and vision for it’s future. Empty Room is dedicated to James, and our thoughts go out to the band and his family.
The record isn’t without the late singer’s touch, though. In fact, you can hear it everywhere. The last four tracks of the album are James Kelly creations, and end the album off with a subtle, reflective end. “Just Breathe”, the last song James recorded with the band, was released as a single and acts as the album’s emotional climax. The last two songs, ‘Plastic Boy’ and ‘Garden State of Mind,’ are the sole acoustic cuts on the album and ease the album off to a melancholic and somber finish.
What should have destroyed the band and it’s hopes for the future seems to have actually pushed the band even further. Ghost of a Gentleman’s remaining members, including lead vocalist and guitarist Conor Palecek, guitarist James Castle, bassist Kevin Short, and drummer and producer Riley Kissenberth, have been miraculously able to move past their loss and use music to overcome their struggle.
The story behind this album is honestly the storyline of a Blockbuster comeback movie. Against all odds, Ghost of a Gentleman has survived and their not fucking around anymore. The album ranges from full-throttle, punk rock bangers like ‘Empty Room’ and ‘Can’t Take This Anymore’ to dramatic and melancholic ballads like ‘Smothered’ and ‘Street Signs.’ ‘Smothered,’ possibly one of the strongest songs in the track list, is a true tear jerker that gets me every time.
The band knows how to build an album, too. Each track flows into one another and keeps the listening experience interesting and engaging. Tracks like ‘Front’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Five’ build the aesthetic of the album without losing its momentum. The slide guitar work on ‘Front’ is definitely an album highlight and makes the song a standout.
At times, Ghost of a Gentleman lose the balance between creating pop-friendly rock songs and visceral punk anthems. ‘Tides’ comes a little too close to sounding like a My Chemical Romance cover and the album’s production is a little too compressed and clean for my taste. The album left me wanting the viscera that their live shows bring. For a self-produced and engineered project made in a bedroom, though, this album is quite a feat.
It’s sadly ironic, naming the band Ghost of a Gentleman before all the turmoil struck the group. In a way, it’s a reminder of what the band has gone through. It’s also a way to remind the band what not to be: a ghost of what was. If their debut says anything, it’s that Ghost of a Gentleman will be anything but that.
Stream Empty Room below: