You know what I like? I like concept albums. I like when an album is truly a sum of its parts, without one track outshining any other as merely a “single” that is meant to sell you on the rest. I mean, okay, there are exceptions to the rule; I’ll fully admit that I originally bought Aqua’s “Aquarium” because of “Barbie Girl” and Savage Garden’s self-titled debut for “I Want You” (after seeing them perform it during Nickelodeon’s Kid Choice Awards), but I eventually discovered that those albums were straight up bangers with every single track (to me). No, really!
Regardless, albums without a cohesive story or theme tend to be like a salad bar; you take what you want and leave the rest. Which is perfectly fine, as I really do enjoy plenty of albums like that, but to me there’s truly something to be said for an album which is an all around “experience” from beginning to end. Especially in these days of streaming music where it does seem like, for the most part, “whole” albums take a bit of a backseat to being merely a collection of random songs or just releasing singles instead. Some like croutons, some don’t, y’know?
To equate this to another piece of media, it’s akin to a movie. You get the whole story when you watch it from beginning to end, rather than just watching clips from it on YouTube or a GIF. They can still be rather enjoyable when separated in such manners, sure, but together they form the bigger picture because it’s all about context; each track in a concept album gives each other track that context.
Of course, not every concept album is created equal. I’ve mused on this in the past when noting examples such as Die Scum Inc’s “The Epoch Code,” Nightlights’ “The Crystal Mountain,” and Vampire Step-Dad’s “Night Shift.” They’re all clearly concept albums, due to their presentation, yet there is no explicit story being told within them as it’s more or less up to the listener to fill in the blanks given the song titles and music. Yet how, you ask, are these different from albums that are centered around a theme? Well, look no further than Alpha Chrome Yayo.
For those unfamiliar with their work (shame on you), Alpha Chrome Yayo’s albums tend to be centered around specific themes, with each release being quite unique from another in terms of not only their sounds but subject matter. “Grangeweird” is about weird happenings in their own neighborhood, “Komorebi” has a bit of an experimental flair by way of Eastern New Age, and “After Dinner Cigar” invokes that titular feeling; but are they in fact “concept albums” in the traditional sense? While there is no “story” being told, unlike the previously mentioned albums, Alpha Chrome Yayo still considers their albums conceptual:
“I absolutely, 100% see all my releases as concept albums. Sometimes that might mean a slap-you-in-the-face concept in the traditional sense, like following an intense day at a race-track with all the heat and emotion, or my take on a sleazy cop-movie soundtrack laced with squealin’ horns and smoky guitar solos.
But to be honest, I prefer when the theme is a little more obfuscated, but still a concept album. Or, at the very least, conceptual. My latest release, Choke, is a hulking slab of noir, with late night jazz cosying up against black metal body horror… but there are central running themes of love, life, death and the beyond… all the shades of grey that wouldn’t fit on a technicolor release like my previous one, Twirl. That was still steeped in jazz, but pretty much the inverse; a hyper-saturated dive into the depths of the ocean… and the information super highway.
For me, in the end, concept is important; both as a listener, and a musician. It keeps me on track, and let’s me dive down some very interesting rabbit holes.”
Then there’s the more heavy-handed concept albums, the ones which come with some sort of written instruction on their background and more or less lay down the entire story for you; or at least act as a companion to the album. Examples as such for these would be Computronic’s “Even the Score,” PatternShift’s “Rites of the Renouncer,” and GhostHost’s “The Curse of Sinn Manor.” The latter of which I would like to take the rest of this time to talk about and discuss more in detail.
When it was first announced, “The Curse of Sinn Manor” checked off a lot of personal boxes for me. I mean, other than the fact it was a concept album. Look, just because its a concept album doesn’t mean I’m going to instantly be interested. After all, I may enjoy horror movies but I honestly don’t care to see every movie out there in the horror genre. The concept/plot has to intrigue me.
Which is what “The Curse of Sinn Manor” did due in part to the fact that it sounded like my kind of horror movie, namely that of a “bottle movie” which is a term for a movie that takes place within one location. In terms of horror, this is usually known simply as a “haunted house” movie but can also apply to certain slasher movies as well as a few others. Basically, character-driven horror movies.
Which is essentially what “The Curse of Sinn Manor” is about per the summary on its Bandcamp page: “Its the tale of Rita and Samuel Sinn, and their humble abode; riddled with love, death, and the horrid events of one fateful night.”
Of course, that’s to say nothing of the absolutely beautiful packaging for the album itself that’s presented in a small formed clamshell design like an old VHS:
As seen above, it comes with a nicely designed little booklet which helps to give you plenty of insight on the story and the characters within. However I wanted to go beyond even all of that and decided to talk to the artist himself, GhostHost, about the album in terms of how it all came together and his thought processes:
What was the genesis of the album?
“The Curse of Sinn Manor” as a album didn’t really start until I had “Candle of Fate” and “The Graveyard Ghost” written, I didn’t have an album in mind when I was writing them, but I was having a spike in interest in 90’s-2000’s PC FMV Point-and-Click games, specifically “I Spy Spooky Mansion” (Which is actually sampled in “The Graveyard Ghost”), but once I really sat down and was planning out the next album, I knew I wanted to make an album that gave off those vibes, as well as pulling from my life long inspiration, the Walt Disney World (or Disneyland, whichever suits your fancy) ride ‘The Haunted Mansion’.
Once I started to get all the ideas I wanted to cover and laid them out on paper, “The Curse of Sinn Manor” was born.
What made you decide to do a concept album?
I wanted to challenge myself with this album, and one of the first things to come to mind was to do a concept album, which I felt I could do as a film student because storytelling is kind of my bread and butter to some degree, and I wanted to see if I could execute effective storytelling through music.
How did you come up with the concept?
The concept for “The Curse of Sinn Manor” was an amalgamation of a lot of ideas but, story-wise, I wanted to have a story that reflected some of my personal ideals; I want more stories about strong female protagonists and I want more stories talking about wealth imbalance and the arrogance of the upper class, so that’s what I wrote about.
It just so happened it all collides really well inside the structure of a ghost story.
What made you decide to write an intricate backstory for the album and to furthermore include a short story to go along with it as well?
It was always in the plan to make an in depth story for “The Curse of Sinn Manor,” mostly because it helped me plan out how I was going to approach each track in the album. In terms of film, the backstory was like the storyboard to the final product; I just translated that story into music form (or did the best I could).
I included the short story with the album as a bonus for those who were kind enough to purchase the album. I know in this day and age its much easier to just stream it on Spotify, or what have you, but I wanted to make the deal just that much sweeter for anyone who decided to throw some monetary support my way.
A lot of concept albums in the synthwave scene tend to be minimalistic, in terms of offering only the smallest of details and leaving most of it up to the listener; what made you decide to go a bit beyond in your presentation?
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to go to Walt Disney World every few years, and as I got older, I was really inspired by the level of detail and depth they had when it came to storytelling in rides. I wanted to go all out and really push that aspect of immersion for anyone who listens to “The Curse of Sinn Manor”, I wanted it to feel like a genuine ghost story, something you’d stumble across in a town you’ve never been to, something macabre and mysterious, but not outright ‘scary’, something just to send a chill up your spine and wonder about it all. The biggest thing I wanted was for “The Curse of Sinn Manor” to be more than just an album, I wanted it to be an experience.
Are there any concept albums in the scene, or otherwise, that you enjoy?
I definitely think “Non-Paradisi” by GosT is one of the best concept albums I’ve seen in the scene, everything it does hits the mark spot on, and to this day it’s still one of my absolute favorite albums. “Freedom to Obey” by Tommy ’86 is another synthwave concept album I love, which is criminally slept on. A huge influence and almost guide per-say about how to do concept albums for me was definitely “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails, such a good album all around, especially on telling a good story just through lyrics and tone.
What do you think a concept album offers that others may not?
For me, concept albums just have a bit something extra to them, I think using the medium of music to tell a story is something phenomenal, and it almost forces the listener to listen to the album as a whole piece. I don’t want to sound like I’m dissuading people from listing to individual tracks on a concept album, but it’s built for listening from start to finish, in the order created by the artist, and I think that level of attention to detail is admirable. It brings a bit more attention to itself than a traditional album, but in a good way.
How does this album differ from your previous?
“The Curse of Sinn Manor” differs greatly from my previous album, “Distance From Death,” on so many levels. With “Distance From Death”, I was still trying to find out what sounds I liked and what I wanted my sound to be. I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know how to get it, as well as just figuring out the absolute basics of music production, so I just made a couple tracks I liked and threw them all together. Once I hit 12 tracks, I was like “I’m done now” and, in retrospect, that album feels bloated for me in that respect. It was also originally planned to be at least three different other concept albums, before they all got scrapped, and so it just became a collection of tracks.
When it came time to make “The Curse of Sinn Manor,” I knew what sound I wanted, I knew how to get it, and I had a theme I knew how to execute, so for me the difference between “Distance From Death” and “The Curse of Sinn Manor” is night and day.