Born in Canada (accidentally) and raised in Blackpool before making the move to London, Shaw first appeared in 2009 with the Audio Antihero released ‘I Got the Pox, the Pox is what I Got’ EP - a fuzzing 6-tracker full of lo-fi dissonance and homicidal romance. The release went largely unnoticed at the time but would pick up support from BBC 6Music’s Tom Ravenscroft and a slew of rave reviews, with The Line Of Best Fit warning readers that “if you think you’ve heard the likes of Benjamin Shaw before, think again.”
Debut album ‘There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet’ was released to acclaim from Drowned in Sound, The 405, Clash Music, TLOBF, This Is Fake DIY, GoldFlakePaint, the BBC and more. Shaw became the singer/songwriter who hated singer/songwriters and his material grew more varied with Folk-esque songs mixing with drones and foggy soundscapes, lurching uncertainly into accidental shoegaze, twisted arrangements and back again, before closing with an aching 7 minute piano ballad about The Incredible Hulk. Response ranged from DIS calling it “Superb” to Subba Cultcha asking us to “please make it stop” – I believe “polarising” is the word?
‘Goodbye, Cagoule World’ a 29-minute clash of the simple and the synthetic. Opener “No One” - containing only dense fuzz and the line “No one could love you like I do…because you never leave the flat” - sets the tone for the anger, romance, frustration and the smother of the city that permeates his music. There is the defiantly defeated “Break the Kettles and Sink the Boats”, which acknowledges his dwindling expectations of critical and commercial reward as he invites listeners to “Come burn some bridges with me, ‘cos we’re not long for this world anyway”. Then there’s the screeching instrumental “A Day in the Park” (feat. Neil Debnam of Broken Shoulder/Fighting Kites) which is probably the definitive statement that Benjamin Shaw is no longer a “folk singer” as he has previously been described; though the loosely Marvel inspired “Magneto Was Right” does see Shaw explore his love for Gram Parsons with Jack Hayter (Hefner) contributing beautiful and ghostly pedal steel, as Shaw asks “is it better to wait for the dickhead to decide if you’re equal to him? …or just hammer his face on the sink?”
‘Goodbye, Cagoule World’ is as humorous as it hateful but Shaw sounds weary and utterly exhausted. The final two songs wear this best. Although “You & Me” has the makings of jaunty Indie Pop, its closing lines “So here's a line about the system and here's a line that's quite funny; and here's a pop-culture reference and a lazy refrain like 'you and me'” suggest how tired he is of even his own medium, while closing title-track “Goodbye, Cagoule World” speaks volumes; a sleepy farewell, articulate but vague, an awkward wave goodbye.
Shaw has always been incredibly conflicted and uncertain, his shaky voice and uneven arrangements contributing to his confused sound. The Fractions Of One blog once named him “an alternative idol in waiting” and while Shaw would likely never allow that, his unique persona and original sound means a lot to a few. His worldview is never certain and his walk is never confident but they are both his own.
‘Goodbye, Cagoule World’ is not the end, but it is the end of something. Benjamin Shaw has been a part of Audio Antihero from the very beginning and I’m incredibly proud to re-introduce you to him. We both invite you to come burn and some bridges with us.
Coffee and death.