The New York group Ghost Funk Orchestra are aptly named. The songs on their latest full-length fulfill both major aspects of their moniker: the songs are wreathed in misty reverb, making them feel distant, mysterious and, well, ghostly. They’ve got the other major component, funk, in spades as well. In a recent interview, Terry Cole of Colemine Records—who released A Song For Paul—said that in order to qualify for a Colemine stamp of approval, “The funk stuff has to be nasty as fuck.” Paul is exactly that: the basslines are fat and greasy, the horns on songs like “Slow Down” are bleary and bold, and the guitars feel like they’ve been plunged in a deep-frier with month-old oil. So far, so Colemine—the label has excelled at excavating the best in modern funk, and if Ghost Funk Orchestra was merely that, it would be yet another feather in the label’s plumage-crammed cap.
But A Song for Paul pushes beyond that. The thing that’s most transfixing about the record is the way it reaches into a grab-bag of niche ‘60s and ‘70s musical genres and works the ingredients into its simmering funk base. The title track veers toward exotica, with its peppery organ lines and ice-cold martini lounge horn lines; “Slow Down,” which stacks Laura Gwynn’s vocals a mile high, warps the kind of sunshine-y pop The Free Design excelled at into something spookier and more phantomlike; “Walk Like a Motherfucker” is all swagger and strut, GFO mainman Seth Applebaum’s guitar lead riding a line between surf and acid rock. By the time you get to “Broken Boogaloo”—which, with its off-kilter horn solo and gurgling drums, is exactly that—you’ve already received a working knowledge of everything from psych-funk to lounge music to jazz at its most acid-eaten. There’s even a song called “Isaac Hayes” which, apart from Gabriela Tessitore’s echo-laden vocals, sounds like… you can probably ballpark it.
What A Song for Paul resembles more than anything else is an old private press library record—and true crate-diggers will recognize that as the compliment it is meant to be. Those albums are filled out with songs in a wide array of styles, and are designed to suit the musical needs of a wide array of films. The main difference is that A Song for Paul isn’t out to suit anyone’s needs but Applebaum’s, and based on the songs here, it seems like his primary need is to leave no funk-adjacent genre unexplored. That he does so with such craft, skill, and panache is a significant bonus.