Benjamin Shaw - Goodbye Cagoule World (Audio Antihero)

Acclaimed musician/artist misanthrope returns with second album

Released Apr 28th, 2014 via Audio Antihero / By Larissa Wodtke
Benjamin Shaw - Goodbye Cagoule World (Audio Antihero) The latest album from Benjamin Shaw is a willfully difficult twenty-nine minutes of music. This is not to say that it is at all unpleasant; in fact, its lugubrious, langourous mood is, like Shaw’s previous releases, comforting in its meandering, drawn-out lo-fi sighs. Shaw’s is not a trendy record of London edgeland romanticism, nor is it some aspirational escapism to or from the city; it’s a snapshot of shambling, quotidian life in all of its nondescript lack of scriptedness.

Shaw’s brilliant artwork for the record sleeve features the same hunchbacked, resigned figure that has graced some of his previous releases superimposed over the image of Robert Emmet Odlum leaping to his unintentional death from Brooklyn Bridge in 1885; the hand-drawn figure, which has Odlum’s head peeking from behind his shoulders, has his arm in the air as if both to wave goodbye and to wave for attention. The absurdity embodied by Odlum, and his attempt to prove that people cannot die from jumping through the air—only to prove that people will almost certainly die if they jump through the air into rivers—is also evident in Shaw’s witty, observational lyrics, which take in topics of frustration with other humans, malaise about reality versus expectations, and the angst of impending mortality. The style of music itself is equivalent to a shrug; it doesn’t particularly care if you like it or not, but if you’re willing to stay with it, it will offer a clammy hand to guide you through and allow you to commiserate.

The first track, “No One,” which begins with a recording of a French lesson, appears as a fragile love song with Shaw singing, “No one loves you like I do.” Then comes the punchline—or perhaps more appropriately, the nudgeline: “’Cos you never leave the flat.” In a similar vein,“You & Me” is a song of chaotic beauty, with its music box melody overlaid with fuzz and augmented with a motley band of instrumentation. Lyrically, it depicts a wonky solidarity that defies those romantic runaways of Springsteen and Bon Jovi; it’s less “Born to Run,” and more “we missed the boat,” a little piece of the English Dream. In “Always With the Drama,” Shaw samples a sunny PSA about the benefits and etiquette of office work to throw his lyrics about hopelessness and haplessness, along with some muddy, off-kilter tunings and saxophone noodling, in sharp relief. Taken together, these three tracks exude some warmth, even if it’s gone a bit tepid with cold futility.

The instrumental track “A Day at the Park” is an interesting interlude with distortion that sounds like bands of nuclear radiation interrupted by jabs of sweet melody and some looped old film music; the song builds into a marred triumphalism before collapsing back into sparse rhythm. Shaw focuses on breaking away from other essentially annoying and useless people for “Break the Kettles and Sink the Boats” and “Magneto Was Right.” The former track is actually fairly upbeat musically, sounding like a soggy parade of battered trumpets, as Shaw invites the listener to burn some bridges with him “because we’re not long for this place anyway.” The latter song features slide guitar by Jack Hayter, formerly of Hefner, which heaves and pitches along with Shaw’s ambivalent lyrics about whether it’s better to act or not, since time only seems to erode our actions anyway. Identifying with the X-Men villain, he contemplates the destruction of insipid, irritating humanity, who may as well meet their end on the edge of a sink.

Despite their nihilistic tendencies, these tracks aren’t even particularly bitter or angry because they’re too steeped in black humour. In keeping with the general theme of disappointment and apathy, the title track concludes the album with a manifesto for have-nots. Shaw is violently self-deprecating in most of his music, so this song isn’t surprising, but there’s redemption of sorts in the final line: “No, I’m not the problem/I’m perfectly fine.” Its gentle monotony builds and unfolds slowly, almost imperceptibly, like the otherworldly, startling development of time lapse photography. Whether deliberate or not, this song also provides an apt contrast to the opening track, which started with an audio sample that belaboured the conjugation of avoir, the French verb “to have.”

Like the album’s title, there’s a knowing, melodramatic tone to the songs; any grain of seriousness or vulnerability in Shaw’s work is the seed for satire and wry reversals. Recalling mock suicidal exclamations from Daffy Duck, or a wretched sob before a particularly strong drink, the record is a welcome piece of self-indulgent oblivion to give your life some much-needed perspective. Goodbye Cagoule World is a nice, dry bit of kit to brave the ridiculous weather.