The Lawrence Arms - Ghost Stories (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Lawrence Arms

Ghost Stories (2000)

Asian Man Records

Review by Steven Farkas

Back in May Ghost Stories, the second full length from Chicago punks [[The Lawrence Arms]] celebrated its 20th anniversary, and whilst it generally doesn’t feature near the top of most people’s lists of the band’s best records (Famously, even vocalist & bass player Brendan Kelly put it second bottom of his own list when asked to rate his band’s album’s back in 2015), but as with most things in life, a look back today with a bit of context helps appreciate this underrated gem.

Ghost Stories was the final full length the band recorded for {{Asian Man Records}}, and marked an evolution in their sound from A Guided Tour of Chicago, despite both being recorded about 6 months apart in 1999, by Mike Giampa and really before the band had played any live shows at all. The record does benefit from a proper final mix however, which never happened to their debut due to a lack of money and it allows the LP’s best moments stand out even more.

Beyond being the first TLA LP to have a proper final mix, the record also marks a number of important milestones for the band. Drummer Neil Hennessy took on songwriter and vocal duties for the first time, with the haunting slow burner “106 South” and Chris McCaughan took on his now familiar co-lead vocalist role. “Turnstyles” is easily the record’s highlight and simply would not be the same without Chris’ desperate vocal delivery. It still features live on a regular basis and Brendan has said numerous times he thinks it is the best Lawrence Arms song and honestly, who are we to argue – its utterly exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. If the quality of the opening triumvirate of “Sixteen Hours”, “Chicago is Burning” and the-already-mentioned “Turnstyles” was maintained throughout, the world may have awoken to their genius much earlier than they did, but sadly it wasn’t quite there. That said, there a few other absolutely killer tracks here; “Asa Phelps is Dead”, “Ghost Stories” and “Light Breathing (Me and Martha Plimpton in a Fancy Elevator)” are all solid and any other band should sell their soul to have them in their catalogue, but compared to anything on Apathy and Exhaustion, Oh! Calcutta! Or Metropole and it’s difficult to see what would drop out of a live set to accommodate them.

The obligatory hidden tracks take the usual road of seeing a band experiment and of the three (“Old Mexico Way”. “Purple Haze” and “Heaven Help Me”), the former a cowboy rock stomper sung by Brendan in a faux country accent that frankly is too good to be hidden. In a way that’s a snapshot of the entire record in those three tracks – great opener, some obvious quality but just not quite enough staying power to last the duration.