Handsome Ghost’s heartwrenching debut album Welcome Back is a raw, intimate exploration of vulnerability and space – an emotional and ethereal journey.
It’s crazy to think that I’ve followed Timothy Noyes and Eddie Byun’s musical project for nearly three years – pretty much since its nascence – but what’s even crazier is how some things change, while others stay the same. The first words I ever used to describe Handsome Ghost were “ethereal acoustic,” and that feeling remains true to this day: Handsome Ghost’s debut album Welcome Back (released 1/26/2018 via Photo Finish Records) is a raw, intimate exploration of vulnerability and space – the culmination of a therapeutic, emotionally-indulgent artistry founded on lyrical depth and musical honesty.
Listen: ‘Welcome Back’ – Handsome Ghost
Once upon a time – about 16 months ago – I wrote that “Handsome Ghost are on the precipice of something very special; only time will tell their full story.” A former teacher, Tim Noyes has always respected music’s golden rule and stayed true to himself, no matter how much it hurts – and Welcome Back hurts quite a lot. Pain is perhaps the most potent takeaway from this heartwrenching record, whose eleven songs all revolve around the same person in one way or another.
“I wrote our first EP ‘Steps,’ about that relationship, and here I am now, years later, attempting to finish the story,” Noyes muses in Welcome Back‘s notes. “I don’t know if that’s sad or romantic. But all of these songs have elements of desperation and uncertainty to them, and I think that’s why they are so important to me.”
To say that Noyes wears his heart on his sleeves through Handsome Ghost is a massive understatement: Welcome Back reads like a compilation of poetic letters, some to that still-“significant” other and some to Noyes himself. The songs address unresolved emotions, moving on from love, and everything in-between as the artist desperately attempts to make peace with his past, find closure in the present, and embrace whatever the future has in store for him.
I could be the one in the shallow city
Everything we’ve done, I want you with me
Let sun never start, let’s live in the dark
It’s all we ever had, all we lost
Two ghosts in the street move closer to me
It’s all we ever had, all we lost
Noyes sets the tone with opener “Shallow City,” knowingly pursuing a fool’s errand to live in a bygone past. The intertwined straight-forward and flowery language that flows throughout Welcome Back is easily some of Noyes’ best lyrical imagery; he paints vivid portrayals of heartache through intense bouts of self-reflection, all while keeping his cool and maintaining a calming, controlled presence.
I’m a reckless lover, you already know
In the sweet, sweet summer, I’m here on your coast
And I call your number, we meet at the late show
I, I never let it, I couldn’t let it go
The night’s not over come on tell me it’s not
And I’ll drive you home after the city has stopped
And we both know better, maybe we don’t though I
I never let it, I couldn’t let it go
I couldn’t let it go
– “Reckless Lover,” Handsome Ghost
You keep throwing your dishes
Funny how we make this last
You think we would’ve learned our lesson
Running over broken glass
Maybe you’re a little too lonely
Maybe I’m a little too late
It’s raining in the heart of our city
We could let it wash away
All the fights we should have never fought
All the times we thought we called it off
All the nights we lost
Nobody’s fault, nobody’s fault
– “Fool,” Handsome Ghost
We don’t need a reason
It’s the season right for falling apart
The drag, the bags are packed
Evening dawn to morning there
were warnings if we like it or not
Your curves, the tragic turns
But now that it’s over,
honey come raise a glass
Here’s to the future
all that we can’t take back
But you’ll be the truth when I try to confess
And I’ll be that tear at the edge of your dress
When you’re dancing in the dark
And you’ll be these bars when I’m at it again
And I’ll be that pause
when you’re telling your friends
How we both were better off
– “Better Off,” Handsome Ghost
Of course, lyrics are only part of what makes each song great; the music they’re channeled through is just as, if not more important, and Handsome Ghost have always taken great care in developing their “sound.” Back in 2015, Noyes said he was “shooting for a unique blend of acoustic and electronic.” A year and a half later, we met in a coffee shop to talk about 2016 EP Brilliant Glow. “I just try and write about real stuff that I’m dealing with,” he explained. “[The songs are] all dark, with just a touch of light, which is kind of how I am: A lot of darkness, but in the middle, still pretty hopeful.”
Handsome Ghost build on Noyes’ 2016 explanation by expanding their sonic pallette. Each song still has a little glow about it, but Welcome Back is expansive. Heartfelt ballads “Honest Mistake” and “Creatures” – the latter of which has been brewing for years now – start from nothing, but build into these dramatic, beautiful outpourings from the heart. Elsewhere, songs like “Not the One for You,” “Here’s to Endings” and “Reckless Lover” shimmer with bubbling keyboards and guitars building up bursts of energy. Then there’s the band’s moments of complete surrender – the acoustic guitar-driven “Fool” builds a delicate, warm soundscape around Noyes’ poignant, breathtaking singing. “Indian Summer” basks in downtempo sadness.
So I’ll see you when I see you
God I want to see you again
– “See You…,” Handsome Ghost
Every track has its purpose and place on Welcome Back, whose cohesiveness of sound and subject matter allow us to feel the full weight of Noyes’ overwhelming love. While it’s hard to stop holding onto some things, one can only hope that, in exposing his innermost self to whomever will listen, Tim Noyes has finally said all he needed to say.
Three years ago, Noyes told me Handsome Ghost “[is] much more to me than a guy with a guitar.” That’s clearer now, more than ever. Noyes and Byun set an extraordinarily high bar for themselves, making Welcome Back a defining achievement and praiseworthy milestone for Handsome Ghost – a band that has remained steadfastly committed to honesty, intimacy, vulnerability and reflection since its inception.
Welcome Back reaffirms everything I’ve ever understood about Handsome Ghost. To quote the artist: “We’re still pouring our hearts out.”
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📸 © Cortney Armitage