by adam donaval
Arcade Fire’s Win Butler once said that people in the future will look back on this age and think: “Wow, the people really liked editing. People must have really been into editing.” When I first heard this, I thought it was extremely insightful. Win essentially questions the idea of perfection in music and what that means – is a perfect record one with no mistakes? Or should we define perfection by a different standard? Of course, it’s not for me to decide – partly because perfection is so subjective – but it makes one think.
Ever since watching Win’s lecture, I’ve been consciously searching for music with structures that defy the norm, music which feels different from the over-polished products delivered to us daily, just to explore the idea of perfection in a different way. ot to, not to’s debut record Goshen, released last week via Nicolas Jaar’s Other People imprint, is definitely a record falling into this “unconventional perfection” category. Recorded using low fidelity recording techniques over a period of several months on friends’ bedroom floors, Goshen is a sparse, modern blues/r’n’b record, somehow saluting both dusty old blues recordings, as well as modern jazz-infused electronic projects like Jaar’s same-label project Darkside. It emanates a truly intimate and specific atmosphere – one can hear the clicking of pedals, the wrongly-pressed frets on guitars, Ian’s breathing; it feels immediate and heartfelt.
Throughout the 35 minutes, Ian Mugerwa pours his heart out, singing of a maternal figure on “Mamama”, about “Withdrawal and Restraint”, or “Addiction and Indulgence”. His voice seems to tell tales much older than his 19 years, narrating some in gentle bursts, others in pain-driven layered sighs. The instrumentation he employs only reinforces these heavy themes – harsh electronic sounds roughen the gentle guitar playing, bongoes and layered cello create creepy atmospheres, a bright kalimba (thumb piano) leads “Ever (Kalimba II)”. Beyond these gentle and simple songs about struggle though, are catchy melodies. They are addictive and they dig deep – you will remember them in no time. A prime example of this, and also my favourite track from Goshen, is the closing “Regretta I” featuring Noah Smith. The songwriting is just so wonderful; emotional, but also pleasingly plain and pure. And perhaps that’s the best way to describe what I find perfect about this record – it’s pure, unpretentious and real.
Don’t start listening to Goshen expecting a polished pop record. Expect a heartfelt record coming from a real place, a real experience. And when you do start listening, keep going, even though it may at times feel almost hard to keep going due to certain “imperfections” like frequencies being highlighted, pedals squeaking etc. I am convinced, though, that this seeming imperfection and slight discomfort is intentional. In fact, this is probably Ian’s interpretation of perfection – why else would he have made it this way?
‘Goshen’ is out now, via Other People