Finding a balance between classic and new alternative rock can be a tricky endeavor, one New Jersey band Funeral Students happily accepts. Their debut album Ghost Ocean relies on sundry melodies to offer an intimate glance into the lives of the three band members who undergo several transformations from the first track to the last. From failed relationships and codependency to alcoholism and the loss of loved ones gone too soon, each song is a careful dissection of their traumas, with emphasis on the recognition and acceptance of past unhealthy behaviors.
The trio released Ghost Ocean in February, yet its harrowingly relatable themes have kept us hooked almost a year later, eager to unfold new layers with each replay. At first listen through the album, we can appreciate its upbeat, yet gritty ’90s sound in the first track “80’s Grunge,” which has reached over 10,000 Spotify plays since the album’s release. With this beginning, we find ourselves singing along to several tracks throughout and think we’re in for a happy ride. It’s not until nearly halfway through that we find ourselves contemplating the album’s themes and track-to-track correlation.
The chilling lyrics of tracks six and seven combine with somber rhythms to insist a deeper, darker storyline. “Happy” lyrics taunt, “I know there’s gotta be more!/ I’m gonna find it!/ Please God just tell me there’s more!/ Behind door number one.”
It’s not uncommon for musicians to write about personal experiences and Ghost Ocean is no exception, delivering years of struggles from each bandmate. As listeners reach deeper cut tracks like “Wet Brain,” we are led through a haunting disjointed melody that quickly slams into an uncomfortable close-up of alcoholism as a coping mechanism. The singer drowns in his addiction as the lyrics recant, “Take another drink and toast to your failures/Just along the brink you’re losing your mind!”
But, it isn’t until track 10, “Spectre Lake” that we truly uncover the album’s culmination, teased by preceding songs, “Devil and You” and “Fight for Attention.” The dirtier, unpolished sounds peak at our hero’s struggle to retain his sense of self, lost after losing so many important people in his life. More uncomfortably so, we are forced into confronting our own demons vicariously through lyrics, “Let me go!” in which the vocals plead echoes, desperation seeping into each instrument.
By the album’s final song, “Poltergeist,” our singer drowns in the music; the once strong vocals of “80s Grunge,” a seemingly distant memory, the song itself barren and devoid of life. Defeat roars in the barely audible tone of the lead vocalist as he wails, “My great throne has turned to dust/ Betrayed by everyone I trusted/And I know that I’m alone/So pour that poison down my throat.” About a minute into the song, drum symbols slowly begin to echo, offering an illusion of waves washing overhead. Finally, we understand the protagonist’s submission.
The ending of Ghost Ocean is the furthest from happy—and as the final melody trails, the listener leaves feeling hollow from the poignant conclusion, yet self-reflective from the heartfelt lyrics and cautionary tale the album as a whole provides. This album acts as a catharsis for those struggling with addiction and overcoming trauma—itself a rare glimpse into the past ordeals, bad habits and innermost thoughts of Funeral Students. Its unique and intricate melodies and riffs make it difficult to imagine this as their debut, tracks varying in sound from melodic grunge to surf rock to ’80s pop.
Funeral Students push themselves and each other to communicate through their instruments, and judging by their impeccably cohesive live performances, it’s clear that their strength lies in their incredible bond with each other. We’re looking forward to their next album, and will be keeping them on our radar and in our playlists.
Purchase Ghost Ocean for $10 on bandcamp.com.