Thanks to last year’s ‘All The Hurt That Hinders Home’, Fraser McGowan offered an alternative soundtrack to Scottish life. An evocative collection of pieces which combined minimal electronica, acoustic and samples, it sounded suitably lonely and isolated. His next project, ‘Against A Simple Wooden Cross’, is a deeply personal affair directly informed by McGowan’s chronic anxiety and subsequent breakdown.
‘Scottish Grief’ begins as an acoustic lament but by its finish the track has morphed into a nightmarish mix of static and blasts of machine noise. The deeply personal nature of these recordings is most clearly brought to life when the lines “It’s hard to keep the light on. Now we are apart.” are heard on ‘The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes’. The track is undoubtedly downbeat but there is beauty and tenderness to be discovered in the acoustic melody, sedate percussion and McGowan’s fragile whisper. From hereon in, the music is slow and sombre.
McGowan recorded some of these songs when he was at his lowest ebb (‘After The Blackout’ and ‘Western Medicine Failed Me’ require no further explanation), so it’s something of a miracle that musical coherence is maintained. Yet sometimes the depth of feeling is almost too painful to listen to, particularly when he records his thoughts for the sparse ‘Point Sands’.
McGowan’s music and lyrics keep a level of intimacy from beginning to end and it’s hard not to be moved by this most honest of records. Naturally, the time for smiles and hope are few and far between, until one considers how the creation of this album led to McGowan’s own recovery. For that reason alone, this album had to be made but it’s also worth stressing that all profits from this album will go towards the Crisis Counselling charity too.
Heinali and Matt Finney