Caught In The Wake Forever – Against A Simple Wooden Cross
Posted In: Against A Simple Wooden Cross, Caught In The Wake Forever, Caught In The Wake Forever - Against A Simple Wooden Cross, Fraser McGowan, Fred Nolan, Hibernate Recordings
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Adherents of lo-fi remind us that it is a recording technique, not a musical genre. But can we separate the two, the method from the style? You may prefer the long form of the phrase, low fidelity, which better describes the willing reduction in signal quality. Take pop music, for example, which positions its artists just out of reach, in both mix and melody. Or hip hop, which creates the idea of something larger than it is. For that, folk music sets up the performer’s gear in our living room. But lo-fi puts the music below the volume and quality at which it was recorded. It perches the listener above the source. It is a murmur, humanity put to music.
The clunky intermission between “Scottish Grief” and “The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes” confirms it, that Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a pervasively human work. There is no posturing here, no upcoming photo shoots for GC, no bling. The former track tapers down to a flanger ringing out, conspicuous tape hiss, and an unexplained demo. We already suspected this warts-and-all ethic while looking over the tracklist: “Waiting Rooms & Chemists,” “Western Medicine Failed Me,” and above all “Last Of The Heroin.” But the the unedited sound of an artist reaching for a tape recorder’s controls makes it all that much more clear. This is an album about the genesis of an album. These are the sounds of getting it all on tape before oblivion sets in.
Caught In The Wake Forever is Fraser McGowan, whom Fluid readers will know from two benefit albums: Kanshin, for the Japanese earthquake victims, and After A Long Dream Of Sleep, for Crisis Counselling, in Erskine. In June 2011 McGowan released a debut EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home, featuring five original tracks and five remixes. Against A Simple Wooden Cross is his first full-length album.
Most of Wooden Cross is a single guitar with an effect or two; some looping, glitchy electronics; documentary-style noise, and McGowan’s breathy, often inaudible dispatches. The artist is not a particularly distinguished or confident singer, but that works to his benefit here. It would never work for Adele to sing “You said you’d taken the last of the heroin/ I’m just wasting time.” For starters, “After The Blackout” is representative of the whole, a four-minute track that begins with nearly a minute of field recording. From the sound of it the the artist is driving home, unhappy with the song on the radio, perhaps dialing a cell phone. The eventual acoustic guitar and Rhodes piano verse is subdued almost to the point of listlessness, which raises the question of exactly the kind of blackout he means. The lyrics are intriguingly vague and you’ll lose words here and there, but the overall plot is pretty clear: destructive love, addiction, hospitalization, running from, which means running back toward something else. “Western Medicine Failed Me” precedes and shares a guitar riff with “Last Of The Heroin,” which answers at least one question but poses several others. McGowan is a terrific storyteller, letting on just enough to keep us fascinated.
Musically, the standout tracks are the suites, as opposed to the more traditional verse/chorus fare. “Scottish Grief” begins with a hand-held recording of a storm; a nasty one, by the sound of it. Not just the winds of change, the winds of devastation. The clean-up begins with sparse guitar work, then the residue of tremolo picking, and now the charcoal sketch of distorted foreground guitar. This is clearly an autobiography about unraveling, so the swirling of guitar effects and gradual, atonal rumblings of a fourth and fifth instrument are sound plot devices. The faint crackling behind “Waiting Rooms & Chemists” may or may not be fire, but let’s agree that it is anyway (the sound of journals being turned to ash, or a former lover’s clothes). This track is as much outtake as final cut, what with the magnified squawks of fret noise and its general telescope-unsteadiness. The slight ambient chorus is beautiful, and tirelessly rendered, even if it is impossible to say how.
What Fraser McGowan has produced here is a strikingly frank, often painful collection. He wasn’t exactly known for any sleights of hand before, but Against A Simple Wooden Cross has set the bar. It is a tell-all memoir without self-pity or low-rent morality lessons. It is a whisper of instruments without lowercase affectations. A true accomplishment.
- Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio