Caught In The Wake Forever is the recording name for Scottish musician Fraser McGowan (he also plays in Small Town Boredom), and ‘Against A Simple Wooden Cross’ is his first full-length album. The seven tracks contained within are recorded utilising a sort of ‘lo-fi’ approach which involved recording of background noise, or environmental sounds such as storm sounds, all recorded on one day last year.
The 10-minute opening track Scottish Grief opens with a minute or so of a storm before a guitar picks out a melody slowly and carefully, joined by a gently undulating keyboard. The guitar work is not a million miles off Malcolm Middleton’s guitar in some of Arab Strap’s material. Gradually, a background drone becomes more and more prominent in the mix. Just before the track ends a muffled guitar plays a distant melody with McGowan’s barely audible voice singing indistinguishable lyrics before the sound of a recording device shutting off. It’s absolutely brilliant.
The Quiet Beauty of the Northern Lakes opens with a lightly tapped drum, and guitar that’s so closely-miked you can hear every sinew, every slide over fret, joined by McGowan’s frail vocals and some gorgeous keyboards. It’s followed by the heartbreaking picked guitar instrumental of Waiting Rooms & Chemists, all the while with ‘rustic’ noise in the background.
The piano and guitar playing on After The Blackout is simply beautiful, while Western Medicine Failed Me could be Mogwai with the noise levels dialled way down, but no less intense. The say the darkest hour is just before the dawn and so it is here on the penultimate track, the lengthy, troubled Last of the Heroin, McGowan sounding completely spent over downbeat piano and guitar. Final Point Sands (where the environmental sounds were recorded) is an excursion into almost Eno territory, with a keyboard drone joined by flickers of Satie-like piano and guitar, as ambient noise rises gradually throughout.
Although many of the tracks here have long running durations they don’t feel long. The background noises, static, scratches actually add to the music here. It’s a bit like what David Sylvian was going for on Manafon but here it feels less grafted-on, like it belongs. It’s not music that fights for your attention, but once it wins you over, you are forced to drop what you are doing and just sit and listen. A serious contender for the finest debut of the year so far.