Almost Missed: San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls’ Debut Album

San Francisco band Cool Ghouls - photo by Michael Bordelon
On April 23rd, the San Francisco band Cool Ghouls released their self-titled debut album, featuring stand-out tracks like “Ballin,” and “Natural Life” and “In The Morning,” and we almost missed it. Even though they have a decidedly ’60’s psychedelic rock/country guitar twang sound, mixed with unmistakable hippie pop infusions and funky rhythms, Cool Ghouls don’t like to be called ‘retro.’

To this day, many bands that sprout from San Francisco, especially those that embrace the “San Francisco sound” – that made the city ground zero of the 60’s music scene thanks to bands like Santana, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver Messenger Service – are bound to be tagged with the ‘retro’ label at some point. The San Francisco Sound is embedded in the fiber of the city’s musical aura, and probably always will be. That said, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with being retro if it’s good stuff.

But Tim Cohen, frontman of the Fresh and Onlys and Magic Trick, challenges the retro label of the Cool Ghouls and their flashback sound: “First things first: Cool Ghouls are not a retro act. If you seek musical salvation in the form of mop-topped mannequins with vintage riffs and hand-me-down rags, please stop reading. Yes, the Cool Ghouls borrowed their name from George Clinton’s Funkadelic-era pre-show banter. Yes, they dwell penniless in the storied hills of culturally resurgent San Francisco. But these boys have their feet firmly planted in the soil of the now. They look not backwards for approving nods of hipster forebears, but rather skyward, hoping that the ‘supernatural forces’ they yodel for, guide them to all corners of a half-deserving world. Truth be told, this being their first official release, they may even be a bit naïve in their dogged pursuit of the true-blue, home-spun, rock and roll lifestyle.”

But, Cohen observed, if there was to be a 60’s-reverent comparison that fit the band, one would most likely find an artistic kinship with some the most inimitable, idiosyncratic, yet unmistakably influential bands of the retro-fitting oeuvre. The Troggs, The Monks, Sir Douglas Quintet come to mind immediately. (Save your Kinks and Rolling Stones references.) Like the aforementioned, the Ghouls are natural heirs to the folkloric lineage which precedes them, adding dashes of weirdness where needed. And despite their mid-fi leanings and natural fit within the current pantheon of San Francisco rock ‘n’ roll bands (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin), theirs is a timeless record, which will hopefully transcend the descriptors (garage, psych, etc.) that will undoubtedly plague it in the blogosfear. The reason being – they write good SONGS.’


Hence, the debut record, an adventurous, colorful romp seen through the eyes of old-souled youths, feels wholly coherent and intentional. The self-assuredness of their songwriting is evident. And no, the Ghouls are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves; this is partly what makes the record so digestible. It doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is; a record for now, a record for then, and a record for forever.

The band has been getting some serious love from the blogosphere and the music press so far this year, and will set out on a West coast tour in June (see the tour dates on their official web page). The Bay Bridged wrote: “[The band’s debut] is uncontrived and unapologetically filled with joy in the most refreshing way.”

“Natural Life”Cool Ghouls from Cool Ghouls

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