Finding the balance between vocal focus and production force in electronic music has never been an easy task. Even when a talented vocalist and a proven producer come together, nothing is guaranteed. Such is the case with Snow Ghosts, the collaboration between Throwing Snow and Augustus Ghost, whose debut album rarely finds the pair's efforts adding up to something worth more than the sum of its parts.
A quick glance at the album artwork for A Small Murmuration, along with track titles like "The Hunted," "Murder Cries," "Covenant," and "The World is Gone," makes it clear that this album is intended to be an extremely serious affair. This, it turns out, is one of the LP's major downfalls, especially where the record's lyrical content is concerned. Questionable phrases like "We wander the darkness of the day/To show me where the years have slipped away" and the particularly cringe-worthy refrain, "The hunter becomes the hunted," are commonplace occurrences. It can be unfair to judge a vocal performance simply by picking out sections of its lyrics, but it's a vocalist's responsibility, perhaps above all else, to sell the story they're presenting. In the case of A Small Murmuration, Augustus Ghost does not accomplish this task. While there is no denying that Ghost's voice is darkly rich—it's a deep, soulful gravel that does not struggle to reach a wide range of notes, and does so with a respectable confidence—her delivery seems to overstate the emotions conveyed by the song's haphazard lyrics and intensely dramatic productions. Furthermore, the gluttonous use of strings throughout the LP isn't helping to prevent things from straying into melodramatic territory.
All that said, A Small Murmuration is not without its small victories. As Throwing Snow has proven across a number of solo EPs in the past few years, he is a producer that can comfortably shift between various moods and styles, and on a purely sonic level, there are very few bones to be picked with his work here. Songs like "Untangle Me," "Murder Cries," and the particularly lush "Secret Garden"—three of the record's better overall efforts—see Throwing Snow operating in fine form, crafting dense, sophisticated beats that balance a wide range of real-world textures with synthesized layers and minimal melodic touches.
In truth, it's difficult to simply categorize Snow Ghosts' debut as a "bad" record. There is a lot of talent between Augustus Ghost and Throwing Snow, but the way in which they have chosen to combine their separate skill sets on A Small Murmuration is not one which yields very many rewards. In the end, the lyrical content and general mood of the pair's work is void of a necessary subtlety; it's overwrought with a kind of unsophisticated emotion that makes it hard to relate to the stories the duo wishes to tell with its music. Perhaps an initial EP would have served the pairing better, and allowed for some growth and much-needed perspective as the two artists started exploring this partnership. Instead, Snow Ghosts has arrived with 10 songs straight out the gate, leaving us with a strong first impression and a lingering suspicion that there may not be much fertile ground for Augustus Ghost and Throwing Snow to find together.