Benjamin Shaw | Goodbye, Cagoule World
by Lee Adcock
“So come burn some bridges with me / ‘cos we’re not long for this world anyway.”
In the X-Men universe, the freaks on yr block that everyone laughed at could actually possess mind-blowing powers. And Xavier could whisk down at any moment and sweep that freak away to an Utopian university peopled with similarly gifted mutants who all used to be the neighborhood freaks, but now more or less live and learn together in one normal happy community.
However, mutant universities don’t exist – which is a mighty shame, because Ben Shaw has one of those extraordinary gifts. It’s not quite as freakish as, say, sapping the life out of someone with a single touch, nor as flashy as shooting lasers from your eyes – but damnit, does Shaw have a knack for writing the loveliest and most self-defacing tunes. And yeah, that’ll repel all sorts of listeners, particularly those who think that summers are for endless beaches or all-night bar-hopping, both in the company of no fewer than eight other friends.
Let them run off and play in the sun. Goodbye, Cagoule World (streaming exclusively on GFP here) is an exquisite little piece, a happily downtrodden menagerie of everything from sighing accordions to chopped-up synths to punchy brass. The staggering variety between these seven songs doesn’t really sink in until about the fourth or fifth play-through – then you realize, ay, that was a sultry bari sax solo there between all these slipping, stumbling guitars that, like Ben, never quite fall in place (‘Always With The Drama‘). Or, yowzers, how the LP shifts to a peppy little ditty that might still hang its head, but at least keeps its back straight with some proper timpani rolls and regal trumpets, and a smile on its face with some silly bopping percussion.
But the smash single of our sad little alternative universe is no doubt ‘You & I‘. The synth refrain here is absolutely mega, while the whinnying viola recalls the most tragic of Russian tragedy. But above all, it’s a song that refuses (as Ben always does) to relent to lovestruck singer/songwriter formula-writing, rejecting all the tired happy devices that the closing lines expose in their rawest state:
And here’s a line about the system
And here’s a line that’s quite funny
And’s here’s a pop culture reference
And here’s a lazy refrain,
Like you and me.
Nestled in the middle of Goodbye is a hacked, clickety-snappety instrumental called ‘A Day At The Park‘ – which, if you pause to picture it, ain’t quite the brightest stroll ‘round the grounds, but surely ain’t Gary Numan’s robot stomping grounds, either. I see grey skies, feel a light breeze and brisk walking – a lonely outing, but a content one for one with restless legs and mind.
Given all these bursts of creative layering, the twangy and mostly acoustic ‘Magneto Was Right‘ sounds somewhat out of place, though the somber brush snare aligns this with the right Galaxie 500 frame of mind.
We could begin to suggest such RIYLs as the Dirty Three, or the Red House Painters, and maybe even that Sufjan Stevens bloke – but, fuck it, Ben Shaw’s been at this for years now (at least four for Audio Antihero), so at this point we can safely say that, really, he sounds most like himself. Embrace this record, ‘cos it’s a true crafted thing of beauty, and no ball of sentimental aerie fluff.
You can stream the album in full here: goldflakepaint.co.uk/stream-benjamin-shaw-goodbye-cagoule-world
You can buy a physical and/or digital copy here.