By Shain Shapiro
"All the jobs in the world are just crosswords and puzzles / keeping us busy and distracting us," sings Andrew Connor of Ghosty, the Lawrence, Kansas-based quintet whose debut LP may very well be your favorite CD of the fall season. Grow Up or Sleep In is one of those life-affirming listens, a disc that make you ponder what needs resolving while further accentuating the positives already in place. Connor sings like my senior group camp counselor; every word could be interpreted as a life lesson, yet it takes a good think to decipher the secret code embedded in the advice.
Ghosty is not a new band. Formed at the University of Kansas in 1999, the band has been performing in the Lawrence scene for over a half-decade, sporadically releasing the odd EP or live concert download in the process. Six years post inception, this is one mature, introspective bunch, and Grow Up or Sleep In exemplifies that. Taking cues from both Bright Eyes and The Flaming Lips, Connor and company’s debut is a frightfully honest interpretation at describing the banality of Midwestern life. Grow Up or Sleep In exhibits a soul frustrated with the inimical values surrounding him, all the while not quite sure how to go about implementing solutions to curbing the quandary. Drowning in insomnia, questions of self-worth, and genuine disinterest in the work-world, Connor’s lengthy battle ends up in a final, all-encompassing question. Should he give in to society and grow up or just shut the lights and continue to sleep in? While the qualm never resolves itself, the journey towards fealty reveals certain life-affirming truths in their own right. Life is a collection of experiences, and regardless of what societal pressures insinuate, always do what makes you happy.
Recorded primarily at the Flaming Lips studio in Oklahoma, Grow Up or Sleep In drips with eccentric, Flaming Lips-style pop, but it's arranged in a toned-down fashion that flashes with quirky folk, 80s retro-dance, and Ben Folds-influenced, piano-driven balladry. While Connor’s voice and acoustic strum direct the listen, it is the David Wetzel’s mercurial piano work and Josh Adams’s constantly evolving drumming that elevate the LP, crafting enough depth to wade in for hours. While “Jacqueline” is a shifty-little damsel, rolling through more melodic changes than a customized door bell, “World Traveler” drops the glamour for bare-bones folk, bringing Connor’s frail conundrum full circle as he attempts to resolve his differences with the outside world. In addition, chirpy California pop (“Hey! Somebody”) intermingles with labyrinthine rock (“Clouds Solve It”), further delving into Connor’s emotional state. While the lighthearted pop represents life’s positive aspects and accomplishments, the introspective, more complicated Indie-laced rock (sung poignantly by Wayne Coyne who just happened to drop by a recording session in Oklahoma) further hammers down the fact that Connor still has plenty of work to do on himself.
Regardless, Ghosty has realized that there is no rush in deciding whether to grow up or sleep in, and often the answer and its subsequent excitement is not as linear as society implies. Besides, the means are much more emotionally important in life than the end.