Hibernate Recordings – HB43: Time: 41:27 – Edition of 250 – Cover photo by Chris Gowers
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More background information on the album: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/caught-in-the-wake-forever-against-a-simple-wooden-cross/
1) Scottish Grief; 2) The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes; 3) Waiting Rooms & Chemists; 4) After The Blackout; 5) Western Medicine Failed Me; 6) Last Of The Heroin; 7) Point Sands
Caught In The Wake Forever is the nom de plume of Fraser McGowan, who lives in Paisley, Scotland where he composes and records his works at home. McGowan has been recording music in various incarnations since 1998. I recently became acquainted with CITWF’s work through a Hibernate Recordings collaboration with Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), entitled The Slow Manipulation Of Dying Light (now sold out, but digital files are still available for download). And so, I started to dig further…
McGowan’s latest album, Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a surprisingly open and stark account of his recovery from a lifelong affliction with chronic anxiety, and ultimately a complete mental breakdown in 2011. As is often the case, the crash was not only debilitating to him, but also to family and friends (and I suspect the title of the album is a reaction to those who don’t often understand all the circumstances; a feeling of guilt that can also hinder recovery).
Despair and melancholy permeate this album. Recordings vary from a six month period when McGowan was heavily medicated to a time when more effective alternate methods of treatment were found. As a result those pieces are more hopeful as resolve and clarity develop. There is also an ancient and timeless quality to the album (similar to Cock and Swan’s album Stash and other works by Sparklehorse AKA Mark Linkous…oh, I miss ML). In this case, it is the concept that recovery takes time, time for a worthwhile cause—rebuilding a life worth saving, on one’s own terms.
I am also attracted to this album in a similar way that I admire self-examination in the works of East River Pipe (F. M. Cornog); although the songwriting and atmospheric approaches are quite different. In particular, the stark simplicity of penultimate song on the album, Last Of The Heroin. Not being fully aware of all the circumstances (and not wanting to speculate blindly), I have made some notes on some of the tracks, but I think that some interpretation is best left to the individual listener.
Scottish Grief opens with field recordings from a holiday before his breakdown. As the tragic nature of the events is revealed, the piece transforms into a dirge. Conflict grows represented by increasing dissonance and ultimately a shredding electric guitar. Despite dealing with conflicting feelings and thoughts, there is a determination to keep moving and not give up, even at this early stage. The track builds in layers slowly, perhaps symbolic of the pace of treatment, and closes with an excerpt from (what appears to be) a demo where it is evident that hopelessness still weighs heavily.
The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes opens with a simple rhythm and acoustic guitar, where re-building a life begins. The struggles are evident: “It’s hard to keep a light on…” Eventually, piano and keyboards layer with McGowan’s almost-whispered vocals and a chorus of a Gizmo-like (bowed) electric guitar. Waiting Rooms & Chemists is atmospheric with acoustic guitar, and the feeling of endless waiting and being alone. After The Blackout starts with melodic rhythmic blips and then blends acoustic guitar and vocals. The track is reminiscent of Recorded With You In Mind (from the 2011 EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home**). Western Medicine Failed Me is instrumental, with acoustic guitar and a veil of electric guitar reminiscent of Frippertronics in Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure (that which simmers below the surface).
Point Sands closes the album, and it appears to look back on the beginning of the journey to getting well, and as I understand it, the title of this track is taken from the location heard in the field recordings in Scottish Grief; a pleasant memory perhaps held onto and another piece of the journey back. Some might feel that this album goes too far into the abyss of despair and is too personal, but it is also the case that music such as this occupies a space that seldom gets explored, or even understood, as it is often hushed with whispers.
**Recorded With You In Mind from the EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home:
This is a solicited review.