James Bannon is a New Jersey-based act who just released the six-song EP Heat Ghosts (HG). Full of folksy strumming and plenty of 90s-era adult contemporary flavors, HG tells several poignant stories of love, loss, and human connections.
Album opener “Kitchens Everywhere” was a lovely way for Bannon to kick things off. With the same warm energy as James Taylor or John Denver, “Kitchens” leans heavy on strong, narrative lyrics and Bannon’s vulnerable vocal presence. Of particular note here is a nimble bassline that undercuts the lovingly-strummed acoustic guitar, giving this drum-less song a bit of a rhythmic presence. “Kitchens” is a perfect summation of what you can expect from HG, as it warms you up to the heart-on-your-sleeve energies that can be found throughout the EP.
Song two, “Dinner Party,” is a love story centered around the relationship of two queer high school girls. Hints of emo worm their way into the wry lyrics and wiggly guitar parts. Lines like “And I fall asleep watching movies starring girls that look like you” slap with a bit of Front Bottoms or Modern Baseball energy and offer a nice respite from the otherwise warm and fuzzy folk found throughout the rest of HG. While the song itself is upbeat (with ostensibly the most up tempo energy of the six tracks on HG), it doesn’t have a happy ending – resolving much like many of our first loves.
My favorite moment on the EP goes to the touching and gentle aura contained within “Footnote.” Starting out with a pleasant acoustic guitar strum, “Footnote” gradually evolves into a longing and urgent sound that will bring to mind 90s mainstays like Duncan Sheik or Lisa Loeb. As the song launches into the forlorn chord progression of the chorus, Bannon’s emotions truly start to pour onto paper. “Footnote” tells the story of a long lost love that never was; we’ve all had those feelings of unrequited love, or, a person you wish you would have approached when the time felt right. He’s encapsulated those feelings with metaphorical lyrics that hit just right – “But if you’re looking on the bottom of the page, a detail that can safely be ignored in the story that you tell of how you fell in love… Oh please leave me out, I’m a footnote.”
“Morning Canvas” hits a little bit more like “Kitchens Everywhere” with a focus on arpeggiated guitar plucking and lush backup vocals. It’s reminiscent of the song “Shoreline” by deep-cut act Deas Vail with its ultra lush arrangement and powerful emotional presence. It transitions into the horn-laced “Now You Know” which saunters casually into Sufjan Stevens territory.
On the topic of Sufjan, album closer “Autumn” tells the story of a young life lost to cancer. Like “Casimir Pulaski Day” before it, “Autumn” is powered by a plucky acoustic guitar part that is probably some of the most impressive across HG. The twang of a banjo shadowing the guitar work here really helps put this one over the top. Impressively, this is only the second song Bannon ever wrote – to put such a heart wrenching topic to words is no easy task, but to do it this well… That’s something else.
Heat Ghosts was released on November 3rd, 2023. You can listen to it on Spotify or the YouTube embed below.