Chasing Ghosts in the Dark is the first solo album from Sean Hopkins, but it isn’t the first time that Hopkins’ songs have found an audience. His former band Stranger to Stranger recorded several albums and toured the East Coast club circuit before ultimately disbanding. He took time away from the music world in the aftermath of their breakup, but his Muse never deserted him. The twelve songs included on this release began during the COVID pandemic and he continued refining their potential in a very DIY fashion. They are constructed around his acoustic guitar, his work exists within the indie folk realm, but the final result illustrates his willingness to move beyond that well-worn template into something more.
The first cut “All I Ever Wanted” shows that. The dominant mood of the album is loneliness, a constant contending with ghosts within reflected in the album’s title, but Hopkins is a romantic at heart. His clear and plaintive voice aches with introspective heartache without ever slipping into bathos. Laying drums into the song’s midway point and sustaining that beat through its conclusion has a transformative effect on the performance. “Light Shades Grey”, however, shows his compositional versatility. He recognizes the importance of introducing diverse elements to a recording some may find a bit one note otherwise.
The New Hope, Pennsylvania based songwriter knows how to give us a rich vocal arrangement. It never distracts from the song and other flourishes, such as moonlit piano runs, helps leaven its sadness.
The track “Like a Whisper” continues this with its scattered chiming fills and the rolling quality of its instrumentation. It’s one of the best examples of him layering multiple guitar tracks with an overall effect that washes over listeners like a gentle undulating wave. Hopkins is wrestling with his heart again and peppers his music with many subtle touches that may pass by less attentive listeners.
“Never Say Never” has a steady push present from the outset. He’s laying it on the line lyrically. It isn’t a Hallmark vision of love but, instead, a rumination on hearts entwined that doesn’t flinch from the price paid for such connections. The understated growl of electric guitar is an exceptional shrewd addition to the playing. “Wish With Me” has a strong march that nevertheless never threatens to overwhelm listeners and the specific lyrical details do a marvelous job of deepening the listening experience. Electric guitar once again plays an important role embellishing the acoustic guitar in the song’s heart and I believe it’s one of the finest examples of the potential behind this mode of composition.
“It’s Alright” is an ironic composition closing the album and one of his best lyrics. He retains the consistency that defines much of the material while still managing to make a new statement that reaches beyond the purview of the earlier tracks. Hopkins has found a new line in his musical life and let’s hope he continues pursuing it well into the future. We’ll only benefit from more of the same.