Thursday, December 22, 2011

BENJAMIN SHAW There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet

I succumbed to the croaky cabaret songs of Benjamin Shaw (“Born in hate and raised in Blackpool”) earlier this year upon hearing his 2010 EP “I Got the Pox, the Pox is What I Got” and slapped lead song ‘Thanks For All The Biscuits’ on this Cloud Sounds podcast back in March. Now at the tail-end of this year comes “There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet”. And somehow the despondency is even more epic and the Mark Linkous-on-Mogadon vocals even more anguished. His self-penned bio sets the scene beautifully: “Lurching from one disastrous Customer Service job to the next, and each day turning to nought but filth, there was one of two paths Shaw could take to escape: either write the next great British novel, boldly staking claim to all that is good and pure in the land; or buy a pushbike and pedal himself into oncoming traffic. Luckily, Shaw had neither talent nor bicycle clips, and instead sat in pubs and wrote songs”.

Most of these pub-written songs are five to six minute studies of dusty, domestic despair layering crackle and interference over spidery Sparklehorse sparseness played out on mournful guitars, frail piano or lurching organ. Some of the incidents are astonishingly mundane – dreading a job interview the next morning (‘Interview’), regretting leaving the house because it means being alone for seven hours (‘Home’) or the simple domestic bliss of “something nice for supper, a house, then a dog” – but they are turned into widescreen, (anti-)heroic dramas of wretchedness that wring out the despair for all it's worth. Less tolerant listeners may be tempted just to shout “get over it!” at the speakers. Or like me you may luxuriate in wallowing face down in the deep end of self-pity.

As well as the intense despair (that word again), there’s also a bleak but wicked anti-climactic humour at play here. The drawn-out horror at the ordeal of recruitment and the crushing boredom of the work place at the beginning of ‘Interview’ cracks me up. The faux positivity of ’The Birds Chirp and the Sun Shines’ (“I never wanted to stare into the abyss / celebrate good times come on” sung as though on suicide watch) has a similar effect. The depressive even creates a bitter joke out of an instrumental passage: 'An Exciting Opportunity' is 2.5 minutes of unrealised crackle and hum and aimless plucked notes that never materialises into anything but musique concrète. But let’s not kid ourselves. For the most part “There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet” is a mordant slo-mo belly-crawl through the mire of depression.

‘Hulk’ suggests these desolate feelings are uncontrollable: “maybe it won’t / maybe it don’t / maybe it won’t take me over tonight”. Such feelings took the life of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Let’s hope for Benjamin Shaw this is a more cathartic process and that the only self-slaughter associated with this record is the slogan of Shaw’s record label Audio Antihero: “Specialists in Commercial Suicide”. And you could help avert this form of hara-kiri through purchasing your own set of these anthems for doomed losers. A wise investment but let’s hope any success doesn’t take Benjamin Shaw too far from the pub and his winning ways with failure and desolation.

BENJAMIN SHAW // How To Test The Depth Of A Well by TheArtOf...

Benjamin Shaw There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet [BUY]

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