John O’Callaghan of The Maine has done many things. He’s written countless songs, helped start a record label, and even helped bring a free tour to the band’s fans. On his newest effort, O’Callaghan decides to be even more genuine with us under the pseudonym, John the Ghost. Sincerely, John the Ghost, offers six songs and a 90-page book, and although I haven’t had a chance to read the book, the collection is an apparent glance into the singer’s life. He nurtures this notion by titling the album with the common sign off of a letter, one of the more personal forms of communication.
He begins the solemn EP with “Sour Grapes,” an evident reflection on his life, the life of a musician who achieved a dose of fame at young age.
I stare at the mirror/ the mirror stares back/flashes they fade/night goes black/have some regrets/wish I could take back/god I hope I’m finally through/ I’m through with all the cheap sex and cigarettes.
John’s words are sung in a tired voice. A voice tired not in its quality, but its tone. Behind the words plays a repeating, digitized guitar, calmly next to a simple rhythm of drums. It’s soothing and cathartic, perhaps how John finally feels as the ghost looking over himself.
The EP carries on with “Nowandlater,” a play on words with the American candy of the same name. John the Ghost sings of how things are better in hindsight than you believe them to be at the time
[T]rue, life is mostly tragic/ you don’t know how good you have it/ when you’re older you will grasp it/ just don’t know how good you have it.
He also wonders who’s to judge what is cool or not, in the melancholy, “Everyone is a DJ.”
Sincerely, John the Ghost not only relies on sad lyricism of a once naïve, now mature man, but it acts as a stripped down companion to his core group, The Maine. “Red House,” feels reminiscent of something Death Cab for Cutie would have put out in their early days, but with a little more focus on melody. The drums are played with brushes, keeping a steady mix of snare and ride cymbal. Plucked guitars lay over each other with calm melodies, while another creates a haunting atmosphere with a quiet, rapid strum. Voices flood in behind John’s near the end of the song, humming, “’You can’t save the ones you love.” He ponders life around him as he is sitting, “listening to red house,” coming to bleak conclusions. “The Whole of Your Heart,” however, is a nice, uplifting contrast to “Red House.”
John the Ghost’s highlight is “All at Once.” Referencing his tough state of existence, which he constantly tweets about, John O’Callaghan portrays the struggle beautifully by singing, “In the right I’m authentic/in the left I’m a fake…and I don’t want to take over the world, just want to know where I belong within it.” The track ends with a two-minute build, adding layers and intensity as it progresses, making it one of the finest endings to a song of its caliber.
In the end, Sincerely, John the Ghost is welcomed side-project. It shows us John O’Callaghan’s softer side, and rather than feeling forced or drawn out, it feels authentic. The EP offers some of the most genuine songwriting I’ve heard in a long time. O’Callaghan’s mind is a complex one, but it’s an absolute delight to digest.