‘Ghost and a Guess’ — Toby Kane and Brian Masek [Album Review]
There’s a raw energy that permeates the entirety of Toby Kane and Brian Masek’s musical experiment “Ghost and a Guess.” Recorded remotely with the help of regional musicians during the pandemic, the effort feels like an escape from the stresses of being a citizen of Earth in current times. It’s light and breezy, clocking in at around 37 minutes and having fun for every second of them.
After a moody, Pink Floyd-esque introduction, opening track “Get Out, Get Out,” breaks out into bouncy heartland rock. A catchy hook pleading “get out of my head” is wonderfully ironic, with a groovy bass line backing up the harmonic vocals. “Get Out, Get Out” ends up being the template of the album going forward. At its core, Ghost and a Guess is a solid heartland rock record with an array of quirky tricks up its sleeve.
From the mariachi flavors of “Even Mexico” to the moody, organ driven “9029,” there’s a sense that Kane and Masek were having fun experimenting with different sounds and instruments. When “9029” abruptly ends by devolving into chaotic sound design, the final line “you used to be my neighbor” sounds downright chilling. “Tabula Rasa” and “Last Call (Hey, Hey)” are both interludes, while “47.2” is a full length ballad.
It’s also safe to say that new wave informs a lot of what the duo are doing here. In “Handshakes and Hand Grenades” Kane and Masek take a country-tinged rock song and drop a ripping synth solo into the middle of it. “Do You Dance?” is a fairly standard power pop song until the meditative, synth-woven bridge that pleads for unity on the dance floor and in the world at large. It’s the best moment on an album chock full of fun surprises.
Riff-heavy title track “Ghost and a Guess” stands out as one of the best tracks on the album. It chugs along with an infectious guitar groove. Kane keeps the vocals low and husky for the most part, making the moments he cries out over the guitars all the more effective. This is the type of track that can make a local bar come alive, full of vigorous energy and chunky, chunky bass. The laid back love ballad “Omaha” is another stand out; reverb soaks the twangy guitar and vocal melodies as Kane laments the loss of a lover and an entire city tainted by bittersweet memories.
Lead single “Liza, There’s a Hole” mixes Bon Jovi-esque riffs with euphoric synth lines before exploding into a bridge peppered with brass instruments and disco rythms. “You make the madness a bit less mad,” Kane muses in the chorus, as relatable a lyric as you can find these days. That’s the throughline that runs between these songs. A yearning for human connection in a time period where that can be hard to come by.
The structure and eclectic nature of “Ghost and a Guess” brings to mind the output of The Traveling Wilburys, who were known for being experimental and genre-defying while remaining true to a core sound. By the time the upbeat, doo-wop inspired “So Pretty, So Cruel” closes the album, there’s a feeling that you’ve just learned about every band and subgenre that Kane and Masek love.
Ultimately, “Ghost and a Guess” is an experiment that works on multiple levels. The high points are numerous, and the album is structured with the wisdom of a good DJ that knows the power of ebb and flow. It’s the good ol’ heartland roots that hold the LP together, but it’s the quirky flourishes that make it stand out.