Zachary Cale: Next Year's Ghost

Zachary Cale returns with Next Year’s Ghost, out May 24th. The eight-song album, the follow-up to 2022’s Skywriting, marks Cale’s first turn to piano-based songs and includes contributions from Shahzad Ismaily (Bob Dylan, Marc Ribot), Jeremy Gustin (The Ah, Delicate Steve, Okkervil River), Uriah Theriault (Woodsy Pride), and others.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cale found a new routine: leaving an abandoned New York City and crossing the bridge to Redhook to play the piano in a friend’s art studio. Having little experience with the piano, Cale’s practice began as escape and meditation until, finally, songs began to take shape.
The resulting album, Next Year’s Ghost, informed by the isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic, possesses a tense stillness that recalls those lost, lonely days. It meditates on the strange elasticity of time, but at the edges a tense pulse beats, capturing what it felt like to have to live without urgency in a deeply urgent time.
“Shatterstar,” the emotional centerpiece of the album, captures the weary searching at the heart of the record. “I lost my mind, I lost my lead,” Cale sings, “Up all night just counting sheep.” The piano notes blur around his voice, dream-like, haunted, until the refrain “I can’t sleep” comes in. The chords pick up, the drums kick in, and each insomniac minute feels physical, like something to push back against.
On opener “Heart of Tin,” during “the morning after abject disaster,” the narrator tries to stave off cynicism in the face of hopeless days. But the bleary thump of “Beyond Belief” wonders incredulously how people just go on like everything is back to normal. On closer “Rough Devotion,” Cale reaches out to a friend on their birthday, a specific date in a time where days, weeks, months seem like arbitrary markers. As much as it celebrates, the song also mourns “another year gone” and the weight with which “time’s piling up.” But in the end, the song picks up its pace, the piano buoyed by rippling drums, by landscapes of guitar and mellotron, as if trudging forward, weary but resilient, to whatever is next.
These songs bleed into each other, themes and images weave in and out, and yet each etches out its own space. It’s full of uncertainty – is the titular “House on Fire” a metaphor or a real burning structure? – but there’s also something else, if not quite hope then at least the will to go forward, to see what’s next, to find the urgency again.
Cale has spent a career twisting new shapes out of his beautiful songwriting, from the stark folk of Blue Rider, to the lush expanses of False Spring, to the rollicking road turns of Skywriting. Next Year’s Ghost is the latest turn, surprising new textures around Cale’s indelible voice, new moments to get lost in.
Lead single "Shatterstar" is available now wherever you stream music. Check out the video for the track below. Pre-order Next Year's Ghost on LP here or digitally via Bandcamp
A1 Heart of Tin
A2 Fragile Line
A3 House on Fire
A4 My Mutineer
B1 Doom Loop
B2 Shatterstar
B3 Beyond Belief
B4 Rough Devotion
Zachary Cale: Songs, Vocals, Piano, Wurlitzer
Shahzad Ismaily: Bass, Korg, Arp, Mellotron
Uriah Theriault: Electric Guitar
Jeremy Gustin: Drums, Percussion

JR Bohannon: Pedal Steel on 3
Jill McKenna: Upright Bass on 3
Brent Arnold: Cello on 2, 7, 8
Anni Rossi: Viola on 2, 7, 8
Alfra Martini: Harmony Vocals on 1, 3, 4, 7

Mastered by Josh Bonati at BONATI MASTERING.