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Bad Milk: 2007 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Minotaur Heart: 2007 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

RA(I)N: 2007 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Strangers Again: 2007 ; Recorded/Mixed by: laptop home demo ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

Bittersweet: 2002 ; Recorded/Mixed by: Jordan Tishler ; Studio: Digital Bear Entertainment, Boston, Mass. ; Mastered by: Matt Girard, Transference Audio, 2017 ; Artwork: Joe Kowan

 

Notes

The year 2007 turned out to be fertile ground. In addition to “Barbed Wire” (see  Vol. 3), the record shows that I wrote and recorded “Minotaur Heart” ; “RA(I)N” ; and “Strangers Again”. Grouping these together, they constitute a body of work but the threads and contexts differ. They’re very separate kinds of songs. 

“Bad Milk” owes much to “All Along the Watchtower,” on John Wesley Harding (Bob Dylan, 1967) and also to “Isis,” via Dylan’s Desire (1976). It’s a Western of some kind. And it’s a suicide song. And it’s a story in the voice of an old type of story, older still. From a technical perspective, you can hear the edits in this one, places where I maybe pasted together separate takes or punched-in on the laptop; that is the way of home recordings at one’s desk.

I hear a familiar and earnest voice at the center of “Minotaur Heart”. The lyrics of this one include an allusion to a certain Mancunian songwriter. Not the only allusive lifting of another writer’s work in my material, but maybe my personal favorite. Rather than borrowing, I manage to steal from the quarry this time … in the way that a mature writer steals and does not borrow. Which is also a reference to another writer, and in this case my borrowing is only a borrowing and not a theft.

Of all the later lyrics and recordings, “RA(I)N” is both a triumph and a mystery to me. I think about the “poisoner’s curse” frequently — an idea that came to me, that if you spend your life working with something that kills you if swallowed then you’ll never swallow anything like other people do. I think about the title, which contains three of the words in the one-line chorus of the song. “Even if you’re quiet, you can’t be good.” What a prison of the mind in that condition. “Let me out of here; this ain’t the station.” I listen to this one more frequently than some of the others. A message to myself from the past. Still trying to figure it out.

For a moment, something struck me. It might have been Liam Gallagher in an interview, or an Oasis song, or a Blur record. “Strangers Again” jumped out. Some digital artifacts at the very start, but then it sorts out. I love the chorus, here, and a bit of Billy Bragg-esque rattle and clatter in the guitar outro (on the level of DNA only, not a conscious choice as I remember it). And the voice is not one that I use elsewhere. A singular song in the catalog; it would have been interesting to pursue its style a bit.

There are a couple of instances across the arc of all the recordings that represent breakup songs written for other people. “Throat” is one of them, back on Life Underwater. “Bittersweet” is another. At the time, I sent the lyrics to the person for whom they were written but I don’t think (s)he ever heard them performed. This track is from the sessions that surrounded the very beginnings of Church of the Kitchen Sink. I can hear a certain Athens, Georgia singer rattling around in the engine, this one … maybe a little too much of him, in fact. But there it is. We carry on.

All these tracks were mastered in 2017 by Matt Girard. 

The artwork is by Joe Kowan.

— James O’Brien (1 January 2018)