Caught in The Wake Forever – Waypoints
This is an ambient record by Caught in The Wake Forever aka Fraser McGowan but it also sounds like an autobiography.
I bought it for the cover by Alexander Kopatz. Sorry, but I did.
Luckily it’s my favourite album of 2019 so far. It is beautiful. I hope ARCHIVES do a vinyl repress of it because it should be heard on vinyl and seen on vinyl. It’s also gorgeously produced and you can tell Fraser also does mastering work – it’s just really well mixed and mastered [here by 12k’s Taylor Deupree but we all know you can’t make a silk purse out of the proverbial…]
Just a quick aside on the cover. I came to Scotland in 1991 to make my life here and the first thing I did was film Highland cows. I even named my production company Digital Cow Productions. And so to see the Highland cow on an ambient record cover so brazen like this, devoid of tourist crap and tartan associations, to contemplate such a strange looking animal is not only a nice surprise but a great metaphor of resilience. I’ve never thought of a Highland cow as a power animal, but I’d recommend it for your inner shaman.
It’s Fraser’s best album I think. Let me take you through some of its moods and I’ll be citing a few things it reminds me of. I’m not saying it’s influenced by any of these things – or that it’s not it’s own thing because it most definitely is.
The opener – A Flutter in The Woods, with a repeated piano refrain, reminds me a little of the King Creosote / Jon Hopkins collaboration, with the sound of contact mics, gentle static charges and perhaps a shruti box in there. This then segues into The Houses Here Have Changed Lately, reminiscent of one of Kate Bush’s Aerial instrumentals – which in turn reminded me of Virginia Astley’s work. The track develops beautifully – windy digital interference becomes a signature through the record. Augmented strings with a light Spanish guitar follow, becoming sonically spring-like with images of growing, building and the future being fleshed-out through the sparse notes.
There’s also a little grit in here that could genuinely be a kind of reference to the Raster-Noton aesthetic, even the Vrioon Sakamoto / Alva Noto collaborations or the more delicate side of Byetone – but it is very subtle and underplayed. A well crafted, organic dubscape and a nod to the ARCHIVES aesthetic which this record is a little departure from.
Onwards. Brian Eno made the soundtrack to a strange little experimental film called Berlin Horse in 1970. It’s a sort of out of synch piano piece, lo-fi, with the imagery of a Horse trapped in a film loop reprocessed in multiple colours and angles. The first half of Carousels really reminds me of it. All cut up. Soft distortion, white noise, totally beautiful. The second half of this track could soundtrack our cow-on-the-cover slowly ascending a hill, in a kind of clipped percussive sequence. And to balance this out Rotten Cork is the calm outro on side one [on vinyl] with distorted dubby echoes.
Side two starts slightly disturbingly – but when Fraser is addressing darker times, it’s balanced. It’s mature, intelligent and sophisticated. This is a track that in the wrong hands would sound abrupt because it very much reminds me of E.V.P. – Electronic Voice Phenomena – you are going to have to loook at that link – but it’s something I used to be into as a kid. Voices of the dead made alive through radiophonic means. Or put another way, microphones in graveyards and short wave radio seances.
And like the rest of the album, there’s a softening of digital noise. I wonder if that’s a theme of Waypoints – to soften the hard times. The rest of the track is more typical ARCHIVES sounding (a terrific label anyway) and is a gorgeous slightly post-Berlin school of static and lush chords – very Echospace / CV 313. And yes, despite all these references, this track and record is very much it’s own worldview.
Wool and Wire is a brief melange of modular fizz and piano, before we get to the brilliant end of the record which, it has to be said is for fans of Labradford. And I miss Labradford so I don’t mind, but if you liked the album E Luxo So, you’ll love Fraser’s take on similar topography. It’s dark and we are in a forest approaching a slightly lighter patch of land through the trees and within a few minutes, something slow and elegant can be seen through the trees – and as it approaches we can see it is massive. A massive Highland cow. Sorry, I digress.
Waypoints feels like a site specific work with a lot of craftsmanship and softly atonal sequences. When a lot of ambient labels are releasing pitch perfect soundscapes, devoid of any tonal imperfections that are part of life and any real recording process, this record fuses personal and organic elements with subtle sequencing, strings and digital elements, on each track that make it sound intimate and widescreen simultaneously.