Ghost Among The Crew marks both the London label's first full-length album release, and the return of abrasive and furiously funky hip-hop deconstructionists Death Comet Crew, one of the most quietly influential underground acts to emerge from the creative melting pot of 1980s New York. Released mid-December, Ghost Among The Crew documents the group's return to studio operations for the first time since the 80s, as well as their first ever full-length studio album. It's a remarkable trip: a consolidation of their early feral disassemblies of hip-hop and electro, but also broader in scope, chewing up and spitting out fragments of soul, jazz fusion, punk and industrial music.
Death Comet Crew were founded in New York City in 1983 by Stuart Argabright, a founder member of post-punk/industrial mavericks Ike Yard and the mind behind Dominatrix and later Black Rain. Their sound, then as now, was a singular proposition: urban in mood, exploratory, often compellingly danceable, yet confrontational. It emerged from the interweaving talents of the group's varied members: guitarist Michael Diekmann (of Ike Yard), bassist Shinichi Shimokawa (later of Black Rain) and Nick Taylor aka DJ High Priest, frequently joined by the late, great hip hop artist and graffiti writer Rammellzee. Having recorded two studio EPs — 1985's At The Marble Bar (featuring Rammellzee) and its follow-up Mystic Eyes — the group disbanded barely a year after forming. They left behind a reputation for their incendiary live performances, several recordings from which were gathered on crucial 2004 compilation This Is Riphop.
The musical climate that first birthed Death Comet Crew was one of fertile cross-pollination of styles. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the seeds of modern day urban musics — hip hop, punk and post-punk, no wave — were taking root in the streets of recession-struck New York City. Argabright recalls dancing at the downtown Mudd Club around 1980 to a bold mixture of styles, with DJs cutting from synth-pop and post-punk to funk, soul and early hip-hop: Bowie and James Brown next to Run DMC, Ultravox and Gary Numan. Indeed, the names of his New York contemporaries operating around the same time — the likes of Liquid Liquid, Run DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Russell, ESG, Swans, Sonic Youth, Bill Laswell and more — have since been inscribed in modern music history.
With previous projects Dominatrix and Ike Yard having recently become inactive, in 1984 Argabright formed Death Comet Crew as a means of exploring new sonic avenues. He'd been experimenting with tape, recording and procesing the sounds of his surrounding environment and dialogue from films and TV. Joined by Shimokawa, Diekmann and Taylor, and using drum machines, turntables, spidery guitar and bass, the group assembled a scrambled collage of rhythms and sampled voices. Their live performances were, in Argabright's words, "aurally violent, sharp-edged, downright lacerating", hacking gleefully away at hip hop and electro's rhythmic frameworks. Rammellzee joined the group to vocal 1985 debut EP At The Marble Bar; his MC turn on highlight 'Exterior Street' is all the more remarkable for having been entirely freestyled in the studio. When Death Comet Crew reformed in 2003 for a string of live shows, he continued as an active member of the group, touring and working with them during the recording of Ghost Among The Crew, until he sadly passed away in 2010.
After reforming, Death Comet Crew began writing and recording new material. Now, following on from their just-released Galacticoast 12" through Citinite, Ghost Among The Crew — its title a homage to Rammellzee — hones the group's abrasive early experimentations while tripping into bold and astrally minded new territory. Alongside the core quartet of Argabright, Diekmann, Shimokawa and Taylor are new voices, including Rapscallion (a friend of Rammellzee's), Jessica 6/Hercules & Love Affair singer Nomi Ruiz, and Carolyn 'Honeychild' Coleman. Its eight tracks are steeped in the impulsive spirit of electric Miles and the deep space romances of Sun Ra, and possessed of an enigmatic yet undeniable pop edge. But equally they're pricked with urban paranoia and dread, traits that have long been hallmarks of Argabright's musical projects.
'Me Czar Of The Magyars' opens the album in a twist of tension like the turning of a ratchet. Its taut electroid shudder is paired with machine gunned cymbal hits and a voice telling of "wormwood and opium dens" — the sound of being teleported from everyday city streets into the astral plane, where every sensory input is heightened and the promise of danger or pleasure lurks unseen around every corner. Later, Coleman's lyrics pay tribute to Rammellzee on the sci-fi funk of 'Deep Space Woman'. 'Let The Clubs Ring' melts lounge bar organs and frazzled guitar into freakishly unstable shapes, while 'Drag Racing' matches its title, rocketing along frantically atop clattering drums. 'Moons On Titan's Seas' is halfway interlude pause for rest, like an exotic cocktail in a bar orbiting some as-yet-undiscovered new world. These varied strands are somehow all summarised in album closer 'Ignition Spark', which sets Ruiz's vocals alongside Taylor's and Argabright's. The zone the trio inhabit in this final track exists in perpetual push-pull between contemplation, memory, intrigue and violence, a decisive opening of a new chapter in Death Comet Crew's history.