When Sam Hall was 18, he fell in love. “We kind of started seeing each other as an accident,” he says, audibly grinning over the phone. “It wasn’t planned.”
Neither were the 300 songs that he scrapped on the journey to creating his latest album as Ghost Orchard. But here we are, three years later, with the exquisite new record Bunny.
Hall has been making music as Ghost Orchard for several years, most recently collected in 2016’s lo-fi, hazy Bliss. Months after that album came out, two seismic shifts altered Ghost Orchard’s sound: He started dating the partner that would inspire Bunny, and he made the jump from analog recording to digital, moving his sound from murky, acoustic songs to hip-hop inflected, stream-of-consciousness confessionals that’ll have you swooning in the lazy summer sunlight.
Both Bliss and Bunny were recorded in Hall’s Grand Rapids, Michigan bedroom. “A lot of Bunny is as literal as bedroom-pop could be,” he explains, a bit self-conscious about the genre name. But Bunny is something else, an immaculately textured and nuanced depiction of falling in love that’s all over the map, both emotionally and sonically. Lead single “Balloon” is a rhythmic and plucking groove for holding hands on a walk; the woozy R&B production on “Sheesh” will have your toes curling under the sheets; “Guess” is a four-on-the-floor banger that sounds like it’s on allergy medication. Hall had three full albums ready before he even started working on Bunny, ultimately deciding that those records sounded like he was trying on different costumes; “Yeah, I made a Duster album,” he says with a sigh.
“I realized there was a huge disconnect between the music I was listening to and the music I was making. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Aphex Twin and a lot of Frank Ocean. Drum and bass—stuff like that. I realized I wanted to make what I was currently listening to, or figure out how to transfer my past albums into that sound. I didn’t want to fully emulate someone else.”
“Carousel,” Bunny’s languid centerpiece, might be the best representation of Ghost Orchard’s style. Nostalgic and misty synths open the track, quickly brought underground by subterranean bass and skittish 808s. It’s an electronica-inflected groove that trades the club for the field, folding plucked, airy strings into the mix. Hall’s impressionistic vocals yearn for his partner during a low point in the relationship: “Alleys and dirt roads / Our timing wasn’t right / Love under streetlight,” he sings through heavily processed pitch-shifts.
At the end of the track, Hall included an early demo that sounds nothing like what you’ve just heard, trading the maximalist production for light bossa guitars and recorded to a hissing tape deck. Stripping away all the other layers, you can hear Hall’s pain in that moment; “I miss you,” he repeats, plaintively.
“It’s a completely different song that I just really, really loved. I have a hard time just letting something rest and letting it be.”
That restless energy is everywhere on the album, manifesting in shifting genres and lyrical trampolining. Like any good love story, Hall’s wasn’t the smoothest run: Following some personal complications, his partner, Lauren, moved in with him only three months after they started dating. He lets out a nervous laugh: “Most people shouldn’t do that.” But it proved fruitful—Lauren sings on the record.
“Just living with each other, you kind of hear people humming to themselves in another room or something like that, and I heard her do that. She has a really, really nice voice, so I asked her if she’d be comfortable with that. It ended up being really fun. It adds exactly what I wanted it to on those songs.”
The two met at a vintage clothing shop in Grand Rapids. “I hate saying love at first sight,” he says, giggling, but remembers thinking, “You are dope. I just want to not mess up anything I’m saying, cause I just want to be friends with you.” He tells me that she has great style, tones of admiring jealousy bubbling in his voice: “She grew up with a really good eye.”
Maybe he’s being a bit unfair to himself. A glimpse at Hall’s Instagram reveals style in spades, a thrifted image cultivated through secondhand shops and hanging out with his Orchid Tapes labelmates, whose past and present acts include (Sandy) Alex G, Ricky Eat Acid, Yohuna and Katie Dey. Hall came up in Grand Rapids’ DIY scene, often booking house shows on school nights where he wouldn’t be able to stay late enough to see the headliner. That’s how he met label-boss Warren Hildebrand (of Foxes in Fiction), and soon enough, Orchid Tapes was putting out Hall’s music.
“When I first started working with Orchid Tapes, I was 16 and it was the coolest thing I could think of at the time… It’s been a really crazy journey. Seeing all of those artists and admiring them and having them so close to me, to be able to confide in them and ask for advice—it was very surreal for a second, but now I don’t really think about it. I probably should.”
Hall tells me that there’s a certain lore to the legendary lo-fi label, and when I ask where he sees himself in that context, Hall gets a bit distant for the first time in our conversation. “I think all of that was a huge flurry,” he says in reference to Orchid Tapes’ early output. “I kind of popped up at the tail end of it, but I’m carving my own path in the wake of something crazy.”
Still, the album sounds right at home, capturing the same sensations of wistfulness and youthful ennui that define records like Alex G’s DSU or Katie Dey’s asdfasdf. He says that he hears shades of his mentors and influences on every song, sometimes pegging specific artists to different tracks. Just as much as it’s a document of falling in love, Hall sees Bunny as a musical diary: “It’s for me to look back and be like, ‘Oh yeah! I was really into this!’ My memory is absolute garbage,” he laughs.
Throwing on Bunny is like experiencing secondhand deja vu, an uncanny insight into youthful life, love and memory. Lyrical and sonic themes flicker and weave, and clarity comes and goes, but the important textures of a first love stand out—“In the hallway / on the bedroom floor / in the skin of a cherry tree / something comes alive inside my heart,” Hall croons on “First Time.” It’s mood, not location, that defines the album.
“I listen to some albums and it feels like I’m looking at a family picture. I’m looking at something that I’m not supposed to be seeing. Riding the line of intimacy where it’s either too much or like looking in through the window,” Hall says of his favorite records. With Bunny, you get the whole photo album.
Bunny is out Aug. 23 via Orchid Tapes.