Odd Talk by Ganser: Please Leave Your Message After the Tone

So many times have I listened to this tape, before and after seeing Chicago-based band Ganser perform live at 529 in Atlanta. Odd Talk is thematically centered around communication, or rather, miscommunication--that much is evident from a number of clues the band has dropped in the naming and composition involved in the project. How strange is the task of reviewing a piece of art which is conceptually focused on miscommunication, how odd the fear of mistalking, the heightened awareness of misunderstanding. I have a fondness for works which call into question the role between the artist and the audience, how art is perceived, what the audience misses, perhaps even what the artist misses. Listening to and reviewing Odd Talk, I am unsure of myself and how my perception aligns with Ganser’s intent. It is a profound unsureness, in the sense that to be unsure of art and have a relationship to that unsureness is a profound experience. In the true spirit of post-punk it challenges the audience, prompting a momentary a reevaluation of the role of emotion and meaning in artistic creation.  

The name Ganser itself is taken from the name of a dissociative communication disorder characterized by “nonsensical or wrong answers to questions”, which also goes by the name “nonsense syndrome”, “balderdash syndrome”, or “prison psychosis”. It is easy to imagine how the name may be misheard rolling off the tongue as “cancer” or “gander”, a somewhat obscure yet clinically fascinating word that plays into the theme of miscommunication in definition and articulation. Serving a similar function as the band’s name, the album title is thematically cohesive with the communication concept and discomforting in its monosyllabic vowel rhyme. Say “odd talk” five times fast, and you’ll find the phrase quickly loses its meaning and phonetic structure.

The opening track of the tape, “Comet”, begins with a sustained dial tone and vocally distorted french-sounding muttering, immediately giving the listener the impression that they are listening to a kind of voicemail message. Synths carry the dial tone motif along, driven by Alicia Gaines’s steady bass lines. On top of glittery synths and Charlie Landsman’s screeching guitar, Nadia Garofolo’s vocals are delivered like a secret confession. The implications of this voicemail fabrication are numerous in deciphering the meaning of this album. Voicemails are opportunities to lay bare emotions that are otherwise difficult to communicate, forced into brevity. Turn a dialogue into a monologue and the deliverer becomes self-conscious, knowing that what they say may be played in repetition, that it is up for analysis on the way that a quick-moving dialogue is not. It does not seem irrelevant to me that the medium of voicemail is often reserved for romance and business, the two spheres where communication is especially important and miscommunication particularly devastating.

With sultry vocals bordering on the cabaret, Gaines delivers lines in “Satsuma” such as “The secret to modern life is to be good with your words” and frequent repetition of “million and a half, million and a half people”. I showed a friend my twitter account recently, and she said she loved it because I was “just shouting into the void” (I don’t have very many followers)--this seems to encapsulate the lyrical commentary on modernity offered by Ganser. Among the astonishing mass of communication, of thoughts and emotions, that we have access to in our contemporary world, so little is heard and even less retained.

Vocally, Garofolo is Gaines’s antithesis. Garofolo offers a chaotic, emotionally-driven performance to Gaines’s detachment. Her delivery is almost like the punctuated poetry delivered by WALL’s Samantha York (or maybe I’m still mourning that WALL broke up in 2016 and see a little WALL in any good post-punk act). Nevertheless, the performance dialogue between the vocal performances of Garofolo and Gaines is something like the relationship between the mind and the mouth. Garofolo, the fast-spinning thinking process ala "PSY OPS", in the moment, rapid, heated, backed up by the wild chromatics of Landman’s guitar. Gaines, the sobered response and cool-headed vocalizations of the internal monologue, revealing little of the chaos inside, manifested in her steady bass which flirts with coordinating with the drumming of Brian Gundiff. It is difficult to understand what Garofolo is getting at in her fiery performance, but words seem lost for Gaines. “Here it goes again: signals misfire,” Garofolo articulates. Miscommunication not only occurs between individuals but in the translation process of converting neurons to words.

The slinky cabaret track “Marsh” is a film noir mystery complete with a haunting guitar performance by Landman and a compelling vocal performance with lines like “You can’t hear, I don’t speak.” The vocals are overtaken by a complex system of no-wave free jazz guitar riffs, manifesting in a battle of understanding between voice and psyche. Listening to Ganser is a form of detective work into the personal history of one’s relationship to the process of making theirself heard.

Vocals are notably absent on the appropriately-titled, synth-based interlude track “(Miscommunication”) in which the sinister mingles with the dreamlike to create a nightmarish meditation. Full of echoing repetition, it is a masterful synthetic composition that segues into the notably less post-punk and more shoegaze portion of the album. The album proceeds to dance between synthetic shimmers and Landman’s twisted guitar lines. Here vocals take a back seat to the textural movement induced by phantasmagoric instrumental landscapes in “Revel” and “Touch Insensitive”. Implications: the dramatic shoegaze shift has to the compositional whole of the album are murky, cloudy as the pop twisted glitter, cloudy as thought.

Of course, I could just be talking out my ass.

Katherine Beaman