On the 13th of February, Matt Corrigan played his first headliner upstairs at the Roundy, which he sold out. Wearing a white shirt, dark jeans and a look of intense solemnity, he lilted out the ‘dah, da-da dah’ bridge of ‘Tokyo’. A room dimly lit by stage lights, crammed full of friends, and their friends who’d just become acquainted, and tourists and fans, sang it back to him. Then we kept going and going, on and on, until Corrigan and his band couldn’t help but break into sheepish grins, taking in an audience that never wanted it to end. It felt like a beginning: Curtains close on the first act for Ghostking is Dead.
Almost one month later to the day, colleges, schools and pubs were shut down.
CONSORTIUM is Matt Corrigan a.k.a. Ghostking is Dead’s second EP this year, following January’s Fever Dreaming and a couple of lockdown singles. A self-described ‘illicit crate’ — too short for a full EP but too laser-focused for a mixtape — it’s a short, sour shot of claustrophobia and anxiety, taking the spikiest components of its predecessor and leaving them in a glass jar to fester like a particularly zesty mould.
Where Fever Dreaming discussed being trapped in a city by habit and circumstance, CONSORTIUM has a monofocus on vicious cycles of thought. There’s an enveloping feeling of panic here that wasn’t present in most of Fever Dreaming’s rich synth soundscapes. Where that record mixed organic instrumentation like a vamping piano in with the synths to create a fuller picture of a living city, this one dives all the way into the cold influences of trap. The digital hi-hats sound too distant from the vocals, the clanging bass synths too close. Off-putting motifs repeat themselves: Tinned saxophones flail around the first track (and from left speaker to right, a nice touch), while in the finale a synth flickers on and off like a faulty fluorescent.
Like the music, the lyrics are characterised by repetition. Each track contains words and phrases repeated within the sentence and song; ‘IF I CAN’T HAVE IT’’s ‘run, run, run, run, run’, flat intonation melodically mirroring the line’s meaning: He’s not moving anywhere. Vocal effects distorting and autotuning Corrigan’s voice on ‘IF I CAN’T HAVE IT’ and ‘MARKER AND INK’ move the lyrical content from Corrigan’s Shakespearian-monologue cadence into more internal monologue; these are his warped, on-edge anxiety thoughts, spiralling through the same patterns.
‘BOGMAN’, the album’s centre-point and centrepiece, serves as a brutal takedown of his previous work. Emigration as escape has been something Corrigan’s extolled over the past few projects in tracks like ‘California?’ and ‘Palm Tree’. To him, leaving Ireland represented freedom from an unfinished self and a city that seeks to suck the life from its renting student populace as it sinks into the rising tide. The question posed nine months ago: ‘And is it foolish now, to dream of California?’
In ‘BOGMAN’, Corrigan answers: Yes, it’s foolish. ‘Go! flee to the continent and wash yourself in the Seine: You’ll never be clean Bogman, you’re as broken as your name.’ Emigration is a fake escape. You can’t just leave behind the imperfect person you are and the messy relationship you had with your home. The ‘faraway lands, distant dreams’ promised by past tracks are mirages in the face of global upheaval: ‘The free world’s on fire, Bogman, and you’ve got turf to move’. Across the oppressive bass beats and slower 808s of Chicago drill, Corrigan’s message is clear: If life ever had a script, it’s long since been shredded.
If Fever Dreaming felt like a statement on Corrigan’s life in 2020, CONSORTIUM feels more like a snapshot. There’s a new direction here, a development in sound and theme that I would’ve loved to have seen explored further. The album’s intro-loud song-soft song sequencing gives it a complete arc, but you’re left feeling that there was space in between to be dug into. It’ll be interesting to see if forthcoming ‘illicit crates’ further the sonic and lyrical thrust of the album, or go into different territory altogether.
Viewed as a sequel to Fever Dreaming or as its own project, CONSORTIUM marks another cohesive work in Matt Corrigan’s discography. It’s his harshest work yet, but it’s reflecting harsh times. We’re a ways off the “obsession with recreation” of the ‘Tokyo’ days, but until we can meet again in small rooms above pubs, there’s real catharsis to be found in his obsession with repetition.
CONSORTIUM is available through Ghostking is Dead’s Bandcamp and YouTube