Ben Collins’ three-song Ghost Stories EP is one of the best new things I’ve heard in recent memory. That is, the dashing young guitarist for RFC darlings Lightning Love and contributing impetus for Gun Lake (who is most regularly seen with The Hounds Below, fronted by former Von Bondie Jason Stollsteimer). In other words, dude is a bona fide champ.
In one of the more riskier moves of my lifetime, I’d decided to put “Black Stairs,” my favorite song from the album, to the Archie Powell-inspired 74-Play Challenge. It’s risky because, well, it stands to turn my affection for the tune into abject loathing. I hate to think it’s possible, but just the idea it could be makes me apprehensive about even doing this.
But I will, because I have faith that, even through ups and downs, greatness will prevail; the greatness that is Collins’ songwriting. If I didn’t have faith, I wouldn’t even put it to the test, because the last thing I want to do is hate this amazing piece of audible artwork. This isn’t really so much a test or a challenge so much as it is an exercise in proof that this song lives up to my hype.
Listen One: I chose this song because, as I told Collins himself, it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. His voice is gorgeous, and it cracks a little here and there which just goes along beautifully with the acoustic guitar. It’s the melody, really, that gets me. He sings a pattern of notes that is unique and complementary. “So run run, run run, you’re a moving target, you’re easy and you’re fun. Hey hey, these days you’re a wreck.” Apparently it’s a ghost story, but it speaks to me in a different way that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe what it’s saying is, “Hey, that Collins is one hot piece, and feel free to objectify him as long as you also recognize his immense talent. But swoon away. Swoon swoon swoon like you’ve never swooned before.” Don’t mind if I do, ghost story. Don’t mind if I do.
(Editor's Note: Amber Valentine fully endorses the above swooning.)
Listen Ten: So there’s like a keyboard, too, I think. A keyboard that sounds like a woodwind instrument. Maybe it’s a woodwind instrument. Maybe a flute or clarinet. Or maybe it’s both a keyboard and a woodwind instrument. Maybe I could probably ask Collins. The thing about this instrument is sometimes there’s a sort of strong inhale sound that it makes, or something makes, sort of like when you play a record backwards. Maybe it’s an echo. I DON’T KNOW. What I’m trying to say here is that it kills me. It just kills me.
Listen Thirteen: I could never ever ever ever ever get tired of this song. When Collins sings “oh oh,” my heart grows three sizes. I’m pretty sure. It makes me feel soft and melty.
Listen Eighteen: You’re right, Collins. These days, I AM a wreck, because your song is making me a wreck. In the same way I’m a wreck after an hour of tempestuous dry-humping. I’m just a noodle, dangling over the edge of the bowl.
Listen Twenty-One: I know I’ve a ways to go, but I kind of never want this to end. And I kind of want to marry Collins right now. Sorry Archie Powell!
(Editor's Note: Amber Valentine would like to be the best lady in this prospective marriage ceremony.)
Listen Twenty-Eight: Oh my god, Ben Collins, what are you doing to me?!? When Amber challenged herself to 74 plays of the Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Drain the Blood,” she started crying at play 42. I’m not even close to that, and I’m pretty sure there are going to be tears soon. I’m not sure if it’s insanity or ecstasy, but I feel weakened. I figure by play 42, I’ll be huddled underneath my desk, rocking back and forth, whimpering. Still don’t want it to stop though. I’m fairly certain I’ve developed something similar to Stockholm Syndrome, except I already loved this captor from the start.
Listen Thirty-Four: So Collins just messaged me on what this song is really about. I’m not sure if he wants the whole world to know, so I’ll let that remain between us for now. But suffice it to say, it was written years before the other two songs on the EP, and doesn’t exactly fit with the mix as far as subject matter is concerned. Now I understand why it sort of sounds like it’s about the victim of a bullet through the chest. “Somewhere on the black stairs, it will come, screaming through your lungs. And unaware in the cold air, you’ll go numb.” And I also understand now how it “speaks to me in a different way” as I mentioned at listen one.
(Editor's note: Abby, you're a cocktease.)
Listen Forty-One: More than halfway through now. I’m all clammy, which reminds me of a ghost story from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series of books, about the guy who’s in love with the girl, but her parents won’t let them be together so he leaves. Later, he gets a message saying he needs to return, and he goes back to meet her, but she’s cold and clammy. Am I telling this correctly? Anyway, she’s dead.
Listen Forty-Eight: The crying feeling has passed. Huddled and whimpering under the desk never happened. Am I in shock, maybe? I feel serene, sort of like that point in an overly stressful week where you just totally shut down and become a shell. I should probably eat something. Beginning to wonder what effect the Red Bull I’m drinking has on how this project is all going down. Hopefully it’s not influencing my judgment at all here. OH MY GOD, did the song just suddenly get louder? It sounds like it’s louder now. Almost like it’s coming from inside my head. Should I be worried?
Listen Fifty-Four: Texted Amber my sentiments about being absorbed into the song, questioning reality. This must be what a lobotomy feels like.
Listen Fifty-Six: When the song ended and then started again, I immediately thought, “Wait, I just heard this song, why is it playing again?” Pretty sure I’m developing Alzheimer’s. I hope this doesn’t mean “Black Stairs" fails the challenge.
Listen Fifty-Seven: Saw the word “Paris” on the Twitter and thought it said “Penis.” Come back, brain! I need you!
Listen Sixty-Two: Eating a bowl of Multi-Grain Cheerios now. Feel instantly returned to normal. IT WASN’T THE SONG, JUST MALNUTRITION! I love you, “Black Stairs”!
Listen Sixty-Four: Only 10 more plays to go. Just had a horrible fantasy about the power going out and having to do this whole thing over again, but then remembered that I have this song burned onto a CD that’s in my car, so I could just break out the Discman and keep it rolling. THAT’S RIGHT BEN COLLINS, I LISTEN TO YOU IN MY CAR.
Listen Seventy-Two: For a while, this seemed to take forever. Mostly because there were a lot of listens that I had to sit through without writing anything. Nobody wants to read all 74 listens. But suddenly, it’s almost over, and it’s like it’s hardly happened at all. Almost like I’ve been stuck in some kind of time vacuum, and am just now emerging. I feel like I’m back at the third listen. Remember when Alice went into Wonderland, and was there for like EVER, but then came back and had just been napping for a bit? It’s like that. “Black Stairs” in my Wonderland, it is my Cheshire Cat.
Listen Seventy-Four: This feels like a very sad goodbye, and my cat just barfed on the floor. And what a wonderful note to end this on, because even if “Black Stairs” had been failing miserably, anything sounds better than a cat barfing, so it would relatively be winner. But it was a winner anyway. It always was. No thanks to the Red Bull, of course.
Verdict: To sum up this challenge, Collins is a dreamboat of the highest caliber, “Black Stairs” will completely melt you after 13 listens, Multi-Grain Cheerios cure Alzheimer’s, and my cat has awesome timing. The song sounds simple at first, but once you really take the time to break it down, it’s indeed complex, and rightly so. Without the 74-listens, I don’t think I could appreciate it in quite the way I do now. Therefore, “Black Stairs” by Ben Collins gets a resounding …