Fraser McGowan is one of my dearest friends. His life story has been far from easy but the message to me has always been clear. ‘Bad things happen. Stuff falls apart. But you can find the inner strength to keep believing in yourself and to keep working towards making things good and putting things back together.’ These are not his words but when you listen to his music it is abundantly clear that this is a man who has known hard times, has known grief and yet, through it all, has kept going, working quietly on his music without much recognition, firmly believing that the human spirit can overcome anything and good things do come to those who wait.
His musical backstory starts with Small Town Boredom. An ep released on Keep Recordings – the same record label that discovered/launched one Josh Tillman’s musical career. From there ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ was born. A beautiful record filled with pain and torment, written at a time of real separation from the world around. Everything about it is poignantly sad. It is of a time and place and very personal and specific to the author himself. The world Fraser existed in at that time was one that seemed to have no means of escape consuming his very existence and the man he is today. Clean of the substances that created ‘Autumn’, Fraser then set about writing what would become follow up record ‘Notes from the Infirmary’. Without the comfort blanket of alcohol to guide his musings ‘Notes’ was a very difficult record for Fraser to write and yet what was created was something much more complete and accomplished than the debut dispelling the belief that to create he needed to be in a very different place. Perfect in length and tone the record is packed with beauty and clarity. ‘Void Lighting’ remains, to this day, one of my all time favourite tracks. If you don’t get goose bumps as Fraser whispers ‘I’d trade, my secret life with ghosts, just to hear you breathing’, an ode to his newborn son Ewan, then you really don’t appreciate true musical genius and might just be a little dead inside.
Soon after ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ Small Town Boredom were laid to rest. Fraser had been experimenting as a solo artist for a while and an EP was being developed under the name Caught in the Wake Forever. This ep, I am proud to say, was released on my own label mini50 last year and is simply fantastic. Featuring 5 original instrumental pieces and 5 remixes by the likes of Library Tapes, Matthew Collings and Fieldhead, it is a record of real beauty and the perfect introduction to what is to be released on Hibernate Recordings in July this year.
‘Against a Simple Wooden Cross’ is stunning. When I first heard tracks from the record I was shocked to hear Fraser’s vocal s reintroduced to the subtle textures he had made his own on his debut solo ep. But be sure of one thing, this is not a new Small Town Boredom record. No, this is the perfect combination of what made Small Town Boredom so special and the potential shown on that first Caught in the Wake Forever EP. It’s an unravelling of one mans psyche and it’s a testament to the fact that the human mind is strong enough to overcome even the most desperate of situations. Not only does this record stand as Fraser’s finest work to date but the very fact that it is to be released on a label as well respected as Hibernate is testament to what I’ve always believed; Fraser McGowan is a special musician. And a massive credit has to go to Jonathan at Hibernate for being brave enough to release a record featuring so many vocals when his label has been built on music predominantly lacking in words. There is no gamble with this record though. It is intelligently crafted and subtly produced. It is rich with texture and packed with emotion. It is a true work of brilliance and it really does deserve to get attention. It already has received a glowing endorsement from Fluid Radio which you can read here. The only thing that bugs me about it is that it’s been released on Hibernate and not mini50 and yet, that is undoubtedly a great decision on Fraser’s part. H e knows he always has a home at mini50 but I’d be lying if I said I wanted him to have to release on mini50 ever again. I really hope that this record helps propel him to bigger and better things, as it should.
If you have never heard of Caught in the Wake Forever then you should make purchasing this album and his debut ep a priority. Then work back to Small Town Boredom and discover one ofScotland’s most under rated and undervalued musicians. Fortunately he’s not constrained by being Scottish and this record really should get him out to the wider world. A truly remarkable work by a truly remarkable person.