Big Mean Sound Machine escapes definition on “Running for the Ghost”


Big Mean Sound Machine (BMSM, aka, Big Mean) has released their ninth album, “Running for the Ghost.” The album’s title track is a beautiful monster of a track that is full of energy and musical traditions.

Big Mean in brief

Big Mean Sound Machine formed in 2009. The Ithaca, New York-based group is comprised of more than a dozen musicians. The band creates jazz that is based on Afro-Cuban rhythms and dance music. Horns and bass permeate the group’s sound.

Even a quick read through critics’ assessments of Big Mean reveals an overwhelmingly positive response to the group’s work. So far, what I have heard is music that could easily provide the soundtrack to a party.

No doubt to support the new album, Big Mean looks as though it is embarking on a strenuous tour schedule. The group’s sound is full and imbued with energy. Critics have had a difficult time putting Big Mean into a category. Maybe that is the point–Big Mean Sound Machine is like a living celebration of music.

“Running for the Ghost”: Big Mean Sound Machine

When album and song titles sound cryptic, I am inclined to find out what they mean. Maybe I didn’t search deep enough, but I didn’t find a definition for the phrase. The meaning of the phrase might be beside the point, but with a band as unusual as Big Mean Sound Machine, finding clues about the band’s motivation would be helpful. So, I did what any modern person would do, and I checked out the group’s Facebook page. As it turns out, they are motivated by life. I mulled the phrase over again: Is this a play on the phrase “running for your life”? It is highly possible. Whatever the inspiration for the title, the music is one-of-a-kind.

“Running for the Ghost”: Title track

The first thing that strikes listeners is the fullness of sound. That could come from the sheer number of performers, or it could be the result of the arranging. The song opens with the sound of a tape rewinding. Then, guitars and flute play riffs against each other. All the while, a rhythm is created that makes the piece fluid.

The other aspect that audiences are likely to note is how front and center the bass sounds. Few genres showcase the bass, electric or otherwise. Just behind the bass is a horn section that reminds me of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. So there is a ska feel, and an Afro-Cuban feel, but the overall mood of the track is one that encourages dancing. However, the sound isn’t light–“Running for the Ghost” is vibrant.

My initial interest in “Running for the Ghost” was to see if the phrase was from another culture and indicated a deeper meaning for the song. What I found instead, was why the song earned such high praise from listeners. Upon hearing “Running for the Ghost” the first time, I figured out why. The song really does defy definition–maybe it’s jazz, maybe it’s dance music. Aside from genre, the song is lively and is skillfully played. Sometimes, that is all listeners need to know.


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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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