by Dylan Smith, Class of 2014 —
When it comes to Sky Ferreira’s new extended play Ghost, out October 16th through Capitol Records, it might be hard to recognize the singer if you’re only familiar with her through the one-off electronic-dance singles she’s put out over the years; or even if you know her through the debut EP she put out last year called As If!. Now 20-years-old and making the transition to adulthood, Ferreira’s music now takes on a more eclectic sound, trading in the previous flirtation with dance music for a wide-range mix of acoustic folk, eighties pop, and a Garbage-inspired punk jam written with Shirley Manson herself. With the release of Ghost, and the emerging of Ferreira’s ownership of her artistic identity, her future is looking to prove lucky for her, with both pop and indie fans excited to take in the five-track release.
The opening track “Sad Dream” is a quick departure from the sound Ferreira used to grow a small cult following. Produced by Blake Mills, a one-off producer who usually acts as a guitarist for artists like Fiona Apple and Cass McCombs, the song feels so much like old school Johnny Cash that you can hear the whiskey still on Ferreira’s vocals. There’s a yearning and hopefulness in the lyrics that place Ferreira as a frontrunner when it comes to songwriting. “A fire baptism engulfs my shame,” she coos. “Only ever in dreams I wrap my arms around you and it’s standing in the water with me,” kicks off the chorus. The acoustic guitar and heavy bass chug along until crescendoing to Ferreira’s vocals peaking at one final wish for what she’s experiencing to not be just another sad dream.
However, as quick as Ferreira can show she’s more than just the dance tunes that got her noticed at a young age, she reminds people just how she good she is when singing over an electronic beat, like with “Lost In My Bedroom”. The new wave influenced dance track feels heavier than the demo that had leaked online months earlier, but the increase in just how hard the beat hits actually helps the song feel fuller and more dynamic. Produced by Ariel Rechtshaid (Usher, Charli XCX, We Are Scientists), the track tackles euphoria in a simplistic way when Ferreira’s vocals haunt the beat with lines like “Inside my brain, it’s just what I imagined – something’s not right, shadows appear… I close my eyes, is this real?”. “Lost In My Bedroom” differs greatly, however, from the only other Rechtshaid-production on the EP, “Everything Is Embarrassing”, which is a collaboration between Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange.
Much like his recent output with Solange Knowles, Hynes’ influence on “Everything Is Embarrassing” make themselves apparent in the eighties-pop sound and the levity in the vocals. Fitting for the EP’s title, Ferreira’s vocals often sound haunting and ghost-like, almost battling with the music to be heard on each track, especially on “Everything Is Embarrassing”, which sounds like the best song to play at a high school prom gone horribly wrong.
That visual, in itself, is actually symbolic of the artist Ferreira has become. She was the industry’s dream-child, having gotten to work with Swedish hit-makers Bloodshy & Avant, the production team behind some of Britney Spears’ biggest hits, since the age of fifteen. She also got to put out singles at an age where most teenagers are learning how to balance having friends with chemistry homework. Her slipping behind the velvet rope of amazing highs has allowed her to see the lowest of lows; she’s the beautiful blonde bombshell with more problems than anyone could ever guess she had. She’s slowly fading into nothingness in a world of Madonna-inspired eighties pop and ‘Valley of the Dolls’ imagery, but it works for her. What would make her too pop for indie music and too indie for the pop world is, ironically, Ferreira’s secret weapon and recipe to success.
Even the videos released by Ferreira to support the EP have stirred up a substantial amount of discussion. The video for “Everything Is Embarrassing” is black and white moody posing; but pouting and posing that was intentional and inspired by every great eighties Madonna video. There’s a clear, thought-out aesthetic there, which also fits the romanticism behind lines like, “Baby, if you let me be your lover – Baby, if you tried, then I would not bother.” Though Ferreira’s sexuality has always been put under a lens. The video for the track “Red Lips,” the only track on the EP not written by Ferreira – for good reason, as it’s written by Shirley Manson who gave it to Sky after meeting her – features Ferreira in only her underwear as a spider walks along her body. “Red Lips” is arguably the most violent track on the EP and would fit perfectly on any Garbage album, but it’s far more heavy-hitting than any recent Garbage output like “Cherry Lips”. Ferreira eggs on another girl, being able to see through her facade. “Little bitch, growing so bored of your fits cause you’re not a lady,” she hisses over the production done by Greg Kurstin (P!nk, Santigold, Ke$ha).
The EP does have its extremely soft moments though, like in the title track produced by Jon Brion (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple). “I’m not a rational, I’m just no longer in the daydream of the delusional that was once held,” her vocals echo over the instrumental that sounds like a mixture of country-inspired folk and Kurt Cobain grunge-angst. Ferreira is reportedly working further with Brion for her actual debut album, currently titled I’m Not Alright and expected to be out sometime in early 2013. If that’s the case, the slowed down tune of “Ghost” is promising in that Ferreira can still get as excited and danceable as any Top 40 act, but then strip it back and bare it all on the same record.
Overall, Ferreira’s biggest strength is that there’s no denying her talents. She can sing and write and is extremely versatile as an artist. What could hurt her is how long she’s taken to find her musical identity, but that can be forgiven, as no one truthfully expects a teenager to know what they want to do for their rest of their life. The same goes for a teenager trying to figure out the in’s and out’s of the music industry. If Ghost can paint any picture of Ferreira though, it paints an image of a young woman pulling from the best of the decade she was born in and the best of the decade before that, mixing it with the present and providing a high-quality of pop music not seen in a bit of time. Ghost is out on Capitol Records now.