Category Archives: Records

Posts about FaceOmeter releases

Hallowe’en Again

What’s scary about the fact that it’s been five years since The Spooky EP? That we are brief flickers of cognisance shortly to be blown out in the gusts of deep time, and that each of our meaningless lives is over in the flicker of a cosmic eyelid. Well – it is meant to be a scary record.

I like The Spooky EP. It was my first collaboration with Dean McCarthy, and remains my only one with Sam Taplin – for that alone, it’ll always be special to me. But it’s also a record with a theme which makes me revisit it every year, and I really appreciate that. A lot of my other recordings I tend to forget or simply not listen to; this one sort of requires that I regularly come back to it. This year, I find it pleasingly unchanged: the solo in track 2 is still my favourite thing in the world; The Dapper Swindler’s vocals on track 5 continue to destroy me; and track 3 still has, despite its pared-down arrangements (two guitars and three vocals) the energy and power of a stadium rock band detonating a series of atom bombs in a massive can of Dr Pepper. I don’t know whether it’s because of anything innate in the record or simply because this is the only time of year when I listen to it, but it seems to suit the season. Falling leaves and crispiness outside, the turning back of the clocks, the distant smell of misty roasting vegetables or whatever – this record really does all that for me.

I think this is the lasting achievement – and the most surprising achievement – about this record: it actually does what we wanted it to do. We wanted a record that evoked Hallowe’en in a certain way (that found the fun, tossed the consumerism; kept the heart but lost the schmaltz) and so we went and wrote one and then recorded it. It almost never happens like that. I’m proud of my other records, but none of them so closely resemble the starting intention as this one does. The most vivid example of this is the last track, ‘Sentiments Expressed…’. I wrote that track because I thought that the record needed a pithy afterward, that the show couldn’t close at the Skeleton Express. And so I sat down and channelled some vibes, and the song just – happened. I talk to other songwriters who have this experience all the time, but it’s very rare for me. My songs turn up sideways, by accident. There’s one idea, and then there’s something in the composition process that changes it. Often, this change is for the better, but I’m glad that I’ve also written a song that does exactly what I first wanted it to. It makes me feel more of a craftsman and less of a conduit.

One of the reasons I was able to do that is because of the strength of the collaboration. TT&J was a curious and wonderful partnership: we did very little writing together (although I will always remember those frenetically exciting sessions very vividly), but there was something about knowing we were collaborating which made each of us, separately, write in a different way. When we put that separate stuff in a room together, it really caught fire. It’s still burning, for me at least, five years later. I hope you think so too.

Covers

So I was on a covers album.

a0967852264_16I just had a nice postcard from Jamie “Currently in Australia” Doe, also known as The Magic Lantern, and it made me want to write a word or two about the distant experience of being involved with the Too Much Love of Living – Remixes album. It’s Jamie’s superb 2014 album remade by loads of his friends and collaborators. It’s based on a similar project conducted by This Is The Kit, who is also on the record – which means I’m on a record with This Is The Kit. And Rozi Plain! And Sam Brookes! And Hot Feet! And a buttload of awesome other people. (This Is The Kit were on Loose Ends with Jon Ronson this morning, which also means that by the transit of properties I am Jon Ronson).

The song I got to cover was ’28 years old’, which I wrote about in a stupidly discursive blog post a little while ago, long before I knew about this project. It’s the raw heart of the original album in my view, and I wanted my version of it to be raw to match. The challenge of a cover, of course, lies in doing something worthy of the original but technically distinct – so I messed around with some lyrics, popped into the studio with a rather bad cold, and sang the song at about half my usual ability level (and therefore at about 20% of Jamie’s). And then I forgot about it for ages, because the post-production took a really long time.

When I got the package containing a CD from Jamie – beautifully produced, of course, and a snip at £10 – I was more surprised than I should have been to discover that everyone else had put much more effort in than I did. The opening track in particular, Emilia Mårtensson’s version of ‘Harvest Moon’, is a beautiful and complex masterpiece which both showcases her own considerable skills and makes your realise the depth of Jamie’s original piece. The quality throughout is like this – it’s an eclectic listen, as you’d expect from a compilation album, but the overall bar is pretty high. There’s only one disjointed seam, really, which is when I gargle loudly and then start shouting. I don’t think anyone else did their version with a cold.

The gargle is real. The theory was that it masked the ill effects of the virus a little and allowed me to hit the notes I couldn’t hit any more. Dean wanted to edit it out, which shows that although he is a recording genius he still occasionally needs gentle and nurturing guidance. I spent the first few listens to this album with a severe impostor syndrome accentuated by not having heard my own lousy contribution since the day I recorded it, but I’ve come around to it now. I don’t think it hurts to have a little rough edge in there to remind Jamie where he’s from, and I think the song is not quite like his others – it asks for an honesty that only a really well-meant but quite substandard performance can truly do justice to.

In an abstract, ideal world, it’s not how I’d have chosen to appear right before Rozi, and I doubt it’s a track that will win me any ears among Jamie’s discerning audience. But it feels to me Right that it’s there in all its silliness, and Dean and I had a great time laying it out.

Music.

Recent Reviews

In the chaos of early 2015, two new reviews of Why Wait for Failure? went up. I wouldn’t normally post these, but since they’re very nice and since they came out on adjacent days… why not? It’s not every day you get an album described as “one of the most unique records of 2014”!

Here’s one at Folk Radio UK. And another at Monolith Cocktail.

Insane Sale

It is the time of my insane sale. EVERYTHING MUST GO, WHICH IS WEIRD BECAUSE IT IS DIGITAL MUSIC AND THERE ARE THEORETICALLY INFINITE COPIES.

For the next few days, there are hefty discounts on pretty much everything in the FaceOmeter shop. They are itemised below:

MUSIC
Why Wait for Failure: CD £8 (normally £12), Digital £6 (normally £8)
Last Days in the Capital: Digital £1 (normally £2)
The Spooky EP: CD £4 (normally £6), Digital £2 (normally £4)
To Infinitives Split: CD £6 (normally £8), Digital £5 (normally £6)
Campfire Songs: Digital £2 (normally £3)

MERCH
T-shirts £17 (normally £19)
Buttons £3/pair (normally £4)

THE ART PRINTS I CANNOT REDUCE FROM £5 BECAUSE THEY ARE TOO GOOD

THE SALE COULD END AT ANY MOMENT BASED ON MY SAVAGE WHIMS AND/OR WHEN A SMALL CHILD DOESN’T NEED THE COMPUTER TO WATCH EQUESTRIA GIRLS, SO MAKE THIS THE MOMENT THAT YOU SPEND £$£!

Album and Aftermath

CoverI put this record out at the start of November – most of you know that. It took four years to write and another ten months to crowdfund, record, produce, and release. There are fourteen tracks, some highly orchestrated, some extremely collaborative, others quite pared down, acoustic, singer-songwritery. The thing is for sale on bandcamp both as a physical CD (with beautiful Freya Hartas artwork) and as a digital download. It has been selling okay, and my bandcamp plays are the highest they’ve ever been. I’ve also got t-shirts, badges, and limited edition art prints peopling my merch desk these days.

I just conducted a brief and unnerving science experiment and listened to a song from it, the title track ‘Why Wait?’. It’s my first listen in a while – one of the weird things about making a record is that you listen to it thousands of times before it comes out and barely at all after – and I remain pretty darn happy with it. I like that you can draw a straight line from my earliest work on The Garrag Sessions (2005) to this song: it has so many of the same features, like the mood and the tonality and the slightly farbled bassline, but is also tighter, classier, more polished. It’s got a lot cleverer and it’s stayed exactly as stupid. I’m happy.

10801590_10100362479664774_3106207605931998275_nThe launch shows went well in very different ways. The Oxford one was a really cosy atmosphere, interrupted by a loud coffee machine occasionally but special because it was the place where we’d recorded the choir parts of the album. I was hugely, hugely ill and didn’t enjoy it at all, but surviving the night felt like a modest achievement. The London one was a very different kind of caper – installed in someone’s house in Bethnal Green (a very strange and wonderful space with lots of nice books on the walls) it was both more intimate and more carefree. I had a superb time.

There’s a temptation to overanalyse this stuff. See my previous post if you don’t believe me. It’s understandable: you spend so long thinking about this, so long steeping in your own reactions to things, and it would be silly to regret being thoughtful about my stuff. My music is powered by that. But periodically, it also makes sense to sit back and say once again: I wrote some songs, I met wicked people, we played together, we had fun, we went home. And we’ll do it again.

The record is here, if you want to listen to it.

Released this Year

I’m listening to two records over and over again at the moment: Two White Cranes’s twowhitecranes and The Magic Lantern’s Love of Too Much Living. They’re both beautiful and gripping and mature works, they’re both notable for how well-crafted they are, and they’re both written by two people I know pretty well. I don’t say that last part in order to drop names (I HAVE SLEPT ON MC LARS‘S COUCH, AFTER ALL), so much as to point out that one of the principle pleasures of making music is the amazing people it puts you into contact with, and the perspectives you gain on art by watching your peers develop and grow.

I’m not aware that Roxanne (Two White Cranes) and Jamie (The Magic Lantern) compared any notes before or during the album-making process, but it seems to me that there’s another similarity between the two pieces of work: they’re both written over and about a period of considerable personal change which seems to have deeply inflected their underlying tone. “We are each of us in a process of becoming”, Jamie writes in his liner notes, “with all that that entails however painful or uncertain”. “Lots of things happened and these songs came out and I don’t feel like the same person any more”, writes Roxanne in one of a series of moving and provocative blog posts on the subject of her new record. There’s something so scary about those last few words of hers. Both of these songwriters seem to have hit a moment – we are all three of us approximately the same age – at which they are confronting reformulations and divergences within both themselves and their social and artistic communities. Jamie talks a little bit about this in a charming film about his record which came out yesterday; Roxanne writes about the distance she feels from her own happiness at the fact she has an audience.

three albumsReading these documents – Roxanne’s in particular – and listening to these two records has been causing me some gentle anxiety over the past few weeks. Much of it is to do with the fact that my own album, which is finally coming out in just over a week, does not seem, to me at least, to have partaken of this mood. It would not be unreasonable if it had: my life has changed enormously in the ten months since I started making it, and now includes a house, a steady job, a family, a bunny, and a car where previously it was largely about my Dad’s spare bedroom, some friends’ sofas, and part-time temporary work with no echo of long-term security. These changes have brought with them an alteration in the time I can reasonably spend doing ‘music stuff’, which feels more like a dreaded ‘hobby’ than it ever has done before. Although I hope I’m in a temporary blip, exacerbated by the newness of the job and some family illness I’ve been dealing with, the fact remains that I’ve scarely touched my guitar in months. I haven’t the energy to organise gigs or send out publicity material – at the very moment where for the first time in years I have a new record (one I’m genuinely proud of) to promote. Even writing blog posts represents an investment away from my other commitments that I may come to regret. It is very, very hard to deal with this when one’s identity as a person is constructed around an assumed inherence – around the belief, which I cling to with all the rigidity of the truly uncertain, that I will always make music whatever else, always play it with my friends and try to get it to people who want to listen. That it is part of who I am that I do this thing.

It is very important to me that it does not become part of ‘growing up’ that I put down my guitar, that songwriting stops being useful to me as a conduit for thoughts and experiences. At the same time, I have to admit that it is by no means a given that I will always write; indeed, if it were, some of the meaning of what I do would be subtracted from it. There is no incentive to go through the heartache, the administrative nightmare, the insecurities, and the frustrations of being a songwriter unless you have a genuine love for it – or rather, there is one incentive: obligation. Is it right to force myself to keep writing if everything else in my life seems to be pushing the other way? Would such a struggle be an appropriate cerebral response to the perils of normalcy eating away at me as I enter my thirties? Or would it be a time- (and money-) consuming struggle against the inevitable, a ill-judged attempt to become what would amount from the outside, if not from within, to being the Dad with a t-shirt on desperately playing his half-baked song ideas to an open mic full of twenty year-olds?

These anxieties are particular to me, and have little to do, I suspect, with those of Jamie or Roxanne. But each of those two has confronted the recent (and different) changes in their own life by stepping up and incorporating it into their musical project. I can’t help but notice that I haven’t.

I’m conscious that in writing this, I’m taking a very different tack to Roxanne, who is almost (from my point of view) distressingly cavalier about her work both in her writing about her music and in the decisions she makes about what to do with it. twowhitecranes was released internet-only with no warning on a pay-what-you-like basis, a gesture that could easily be read as indifference to the work, or to the audience, or to money, or to recognition, or to all of the above. Her shows are advertised on facebook in a register which almost dares you not to come. It’s an attitude which contrasts starkly and, I think, pointedly, with my ten-month blog-o-journey to make a new album, a journey in which I forcibly involved nearly all of my friends. My feeling is that Roxanne has always been nervous of such affairs, but it’s interesting to see her positioning herself this way relative to twowhitecranes in particular, since – for me, at least – it offers the most authentic reflection yet of how she really is as a person. Despite a declared lack of confidence in herself and in the material, this is an album that sees her voice, her musicianship, and her lyrics working (and working together) with an assurance I haven’t seen from her before. It’s an assurance that pushes strongly against the self-effacement with which she distributes and promotes her material. In one of her posts, she calls the whole act of songwriting “both an incredibly meaningful experience and just complete and utter nonsense”, a phrase which in my view explicates both the attention she’s paid to making the album and the guilt that she seems to feel should accompany making that attention public.

Jamie doesn’t have this problem. He’s on a very different path – an exhausting and, I suspect, occasionally upsetting one which has nevertheless seen him garner considerable national attention including plays on Lauren Laverne and a recent review in the Guardian. Those who know Jamie know that he has worked hard for this recognition; those who listen to the album will realise how deserved it is. Pared down significantly from the previous live-jazz-band setup, this is (for the most part) just Jamie and an acoustic guitar, and the immediacy of his performances are the source of its rich emotional potential (and testimony to the skill of Dean McCarthy, our mutual sound engineer). Playing a song well by yourself, on an acoustic guitar, to one other person – a sincere song, one you Mean – requires extraordinary reserves of both courage and self-doubt, and these two aspects of Jamie are in productive conversation throughout the album. The whole thing turns around the fifth track, which Jamie wrote when he was twenty-four, and which changes every year to reflect his current age (on the album, therefore, the song is called ’28 Years Old’). This is an a cappella tune – even more confident; even more fragile – but Jamie’s great risk is that he changes no other lyrics year on year. The updated number in the title is the only difference. It strikes me that this was a shrewd scheme from 24-year-old Jamie, because it presses us up against the fact that songs change year-on-year even if the words don’t, precisely because we move around them, because they settle on us in different ways. ’28 Years Old’ is a kind of homage to Borges’s Pierre Menard in that sense: the lyric “I’ve grown since I’ve left home / In some ways worse, some better” means something really different at 24 and 28, and will be different again at 33. But I wonder what Jamie will do if he finds that he no longer means the words in this song. Will he change them, or stop singing?

Somewhere between Jamie’s measured, cerebral, realistic and yet imaginative apprehension of his situation and Roxanne’s febrile, delicate, loudly unobtrusive painting of hers, there’s my uncertainty about FaceOmeter. It’s not that I don’t think Why Wait for Failure? represents me well, or even that I think it should have to – the songs on this album mean a lot to me, and I’m proud of them. I still feel like the person who wrote them. But I worry about how hard it will be to keep writing stuff like this after this album comes out. I can imagine not minding stopping one day, and the thought terrifies me.

Pressing upon all of this is a question of audience – another question which both Roxanne and Jamie have framed in their different ways. Who should listen to my stuff? Why should anyone care? The difficulties I’ve encountered selling tickets to my launch shows and my own allergy to sending out publicity material, combined with a spreading and thinning of the artistic communities I’ve depended on for the last decade, might by themselves be enough to stop me from writing – it’s not enough to write only for my own amusement, but it is a lot to ask of anyone else to sit and listen to my nonsense. It’s been at least a year since I actually spoke to Roxanne, and that’s a thought that makes me all kinds of sad. But whatever happens next, I’m taking a stand on this one thing: that right now, the three of us have released these different, similar records. They’re evidence of work and thought and love and pain. They weren’t written to be listened to together, but you can listen to them together, and the conversation isn’t without uniqueness. Right now, this second, I am a part of something, though I feel it slipping through my fingers as I say it.

Buy Two White Cranes’s album here. It is brilliant.
Buy The Magic Lantern’s album here. It is brilliant.
Pre-order my album here. It is brilliant.

 

Let the Hype Commence

Last weekend I went to see the Magic Lantern launch his new album. It was a solemn and moving occasion, full of good vibes and lovely people. The experience made me wish that I could be like Jamie, and have a big release party for an album that I just recorded with Dean McCarthy.

HOW CONVENIENT. I do in fact have such an album primed for release, and it’s time to celebrate!

BzWTGd_CYAEm7XyArt by the delicious Freya Hartas of course

The two big shows will be in Oxford (Sunday, Nov 2nd) and London (Thursday, Nov 6th). Here’s the wrinkle: we’re setting these shows up through Tigmus, a cool artist-run music promoter that does everything through pre-sales. This means that we need to sell a certain (low) number of (cheap) tickets ahead of the shows, or they won’t happen.

Details of each show are below, but I just wanted to urge you to do everything you can to make these shows as awesome as possible: come if you can, share if you can’t, and let’s have a couple of really, really special nights.

Making this record has been an intense privilege, and I really want to celebrate with as many of you as possible. Please get tickets now and come along!

OXFORD – SUNDAY, NOV 2nd
Our venue for this is the Jam Factory, which some of you will remember as the atmospheric space where we recorded the choir tracks for the album! This time, though, we’ll be upstairs. There will be a piano with Mr. Sam Taplin playing upon it, Ditte Elly will be there with some of her tunes, and The Magic Lantern will be dropping in to pay his respects. Tickets are a measly £4. To buy them, go to http://tigmus.com/, click on the tile which says ‘FaceOmeter – Oxford Nov 2nd’, type in the number of tickets you want, and hit the giant T to check out with paypal. Simple! Please do it in the next 48 hours or the show won’t happen!

LONDON – THURSDAY, NOV 6th
In London, I’m hoping to stop by the Stour Space in order to have good times with a posse of the usual suspects. It’s a miraculous venue in Hackney Wick, which you can see more about here. Guest acts are not all confirmed yet, but I can tell you that the Magic Lantern (whose own album launched last week) is never far away where I am concerned! Tickets are a measly £4. To buy them, go to http://tigmus.com/, click on the tile which says ‘FaceOmeter – TBC, London’, type in the number of tickets you want, and hit the giant T to check out with paypal. Simple!

 

Original Art

Today was another small but important milestone in delivering the album into your loving hands – the arrival of a sofafull of Freya Hartas artwork!

2014-07-16 21.37.34

Brilliant as it looks on screen, this stuff is even more awesome in real life. It was great to see it in the flesh for the first time! Freya’s worked super hard and some of this original artwork will be going out to people who backed the project as part of the rewards. They’ll look great on your wall! Freya’s also made some beautiful A5 and A4 prints of the art which a lot more of you will be enjoying very soon…

Getting Freya on board for this project was the first time I was certain it was definitely going to happen, and she’s been incredible to work with the whole way through. Hopefully, the box full of the actual records is not too far behind this one, so stay tuned!

Of Shirts and Singing

Faced with the surprising success of the crowdfunding campaign for Why Wait for Failure?, I added the possibility of buying T-shirts at about the halfway point. Now that the campaign’s closed, I’ve heard noises of regret from a few people: because the shirts were added later, they’d missed the chance of getting one. These will be very limited edition garments, so it did seem unfair to deny the needy!

In consideration of this, I’ve made it possible to pre-order the remaining shirts through Bandcamp. These were the only limited edition rewards that didn’t sell out completely during the campaign, so naturally I’m delighted if anyone else wants to order one now! They will be handmade and completely beautiful.

Speaking of ‘completely beautiful’, this Sunday, Jan 12th, marks the long overdue reunion of the Hectic Eclectic Folk Choir, which will take place at 11am in The Jam Factory, near Oxford station, and which will run until about 2pm. Those of you interested in singing on the album – be there! Can’t wait.

New Year’s Eve Sale!

It only just occurred to me to have a look at my bandcamp stats, and I found that they’d rocketed to an all-time high during my crowdfunding campaign for the second album – despite nothing new being on there. It’s great that the success of the crowdfunding has stimulated a bit of interest in my older stuff, and it seemed that New Year might be a good time to allow folks to complete their FaceOmeter back catalogues…

Therefore, it’s my pleasure to announce that until the end of New Year’s day, digital downloads from my bandcamp store will be heavily discounted!

Here’s what I’m offering:

a0243291042_2

To Infinitives Split (2009) – Usually £7.90, now £5
My first full-length LP. Lo-fi recording quality but well-mastered and including several tracks (‘Stuffed Animals’; ‘A Strange Visitor’) which are still live favourites!

The Spooky EP (2011) – Usually £4, now £3
A product of Taplin, Tattersdill, and Jones – of which I represent 1/3rd – this Hallowe’en-themed EP also works at other times of the year! Exceptional production standards.

Last Days in the Capital EP (2012) – Usually £2, now £1
I spent ages on this tiny record and no-one bought it. Perhaps this could be its moment? The secret track is amazing I’VE SAID TOO MUCH

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE BARGAINS