It’s summer, so I felt like reminiscing about an album that reminds me of the best summer ever, summer 2006. That summer featured some epically long hair, playing shows with Joe and Kyle, and Hey, I’m a Ghost by Sullivan.
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to go out to Best Buy and pick up the compact disc that June. Because the band was on Tooth and Nail records, I had listened to some of their singles when the album originally came out in January of that year. At that time, I just found it weird. I seriously thought a girl was singing at the beginning of one song because Brooks Paschal’s falsetto was so breathy. But for some reason, the music connected with me over that hot, lively summer break.
Sullivan’s music is an interesting mix of pop-punk, emo, and even some post-hardcore elements. There is no screaming, but the high-pitched, strained vocals emit passion. Guitar parts aren’t necessarily complex, but they’re not mind-numbingly simple, either. Sections feature clean picking leading up to rock-style breakdowns, while yet others judiciously use effects and an e-bow to create atmosphere. Every so often, lead licks will surface to remind the listener that this is not just a bunch of kids rocking out in a garage. The drums are mixed up-front and aggressively, but not unpolished. It really is a fascinating balance of raw youthfulness and professional musicianship.
Brooks’s vocals deserve a write-up all to themselves. While the music is interesting, the singing is even more so. He spans from delicate falsetto to emotional singing to passionate yelling, often within a minute of performance. He stays on key enough to exhibit talent, but pushes the line enough to stay edgy and raw. It’s intriguing to hear the different shades of vocals as the songs flow, and I’m probably still a fan of his voice to this day if only for the diversity he can deliver.
Song structures are not unpredictable, but they are often dynamic. Again, it “feels” like pop-punk, but at the same time it doesn’t. I think that’s one of the things that attracted me to Sullivan. They are unabashedly young and energetic, but not simplistic. That’s exactly what I felt like I needed that summer in the midst of my college years as I, too, clung to youth and became more of a complex individual. At the same time, the production on this album is absolutely stellar thanks to Matt Goldman. Every drop of potential is squeezed out of these songs, and it makes for a very enjoyable listen.
Lyrically, the album doesn’t cover anything too deep. The typical fare from relationships to loneliness makes appearances, though rare songs like “The Charity of Saint Elizabeth” approach deeper topics, such as the death of a sick child, at a distance. There are also several references to abusive relationships, primarily from the perspective of the good guy who lost the girl to an abusive jerk. These, too, lend a different weight to the album than something like Dashboard Confessional of the same era might have. My favorite passages are those that are dramatically emo. Everyone needs some music to express feelings like those in the mantra of the opening track:
I can’t be a better boy
Than the one you had before
For that I apologize
For that I apologize
At least I needed such words during that season of my life. There’s still something about the raw yet polished juxtaposition of this album that allows me to enjoy it on warm summer nights, reflecting on the turns my life has taken. I may even hum along with some passages that still resonate within deep chambers of my heart. Unfortunately, the band released another less-than-stellar album, then broke up, but perhaps they were together for such a time as my quintessential summer of 2006.
You can find the passionate yet refined emo of Hey, I’m a Ghost on Spotify and Amazon.