LP review: Gaunt Story – Companion Waves (White Label Music 2013)

companion wavesI should probably start this with something of a disclaimer, insofar as I know and am friends with Rob Ashworth, the puppet master behind Gaunt Story. However, this disclaimer is redundant in my opinion as I became friends with him at first through his musical projects. With that out of the way, let’s begin…

Companion Waves is the long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s masterful debut This Gaunt Story, and Ashworth has been a busy fellow indeed. What we have here are eleven new songs that Ashworth has clearly spent a great deal of care crafting over the past few years. Gaunt Story is possibly the archetypical example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and you can certainly listen to both LPs consecutively without troubling your eardrums too much. Elaborate acoustic fingerpicking? Check. Bizarre lyrics that somehow make sense? Check.

Which is not to say that there isn’t a definite sense of maturity and growth with this new batch. Indeed, there is more a sense of introspection here than previously, whether in coded lyrics (“you are Glenbeulah, Glenbeulah it’s you”) or in explicit outbursts of frustration (“will you stay around to see me go and fuck it up this time?”), Ashworth has clearly had a lot on his mind. What is also impressive is the array of instrumentation underlying a lot of these songs – backed up by drums, chimes, the odd flourish of electric guitar – with glorious production to boot, Companion Waves has both a musical and lyrical depth that its predecessor on occasion lacked. One cannot make the comparison without also mentioning that on this LP Ashworth is the sole performer (as opposed to the six or seven musicians who joined him on the debut).

The Elliott Smith influences are still there, bubbling under the surface with melodies that twist and turn this way and that, particularly on opening track Blue Charm & Silver Stoat and the title track itself. Bon Iver also comes to mind, with delicate harmonies tugging at most of the songs, and in the one minute and thirty-seven seconds of Hopeless & Wrong one can detect Will Oldham’s gloomier moments. However, Gaunt Story is much more than the sum of its influences, and has definitely created a sound of its own. This is in no small part down to Ashworth’s vocals, which have noticeably developed since 2008. Ashworth has a warm reassuring sort of voice, one that you wouldn’t mind having on your satnav to be frank. This is particularly resonant on the glorious White Walls and the closing track Lottery Reception. It’s hard to hear lines like “mother wept in the kitchen, which translates as it’s your fault / It’s not your fault” (Rails to Broad Oaks) and not be moved by the poignancy.

Clocking in at just over half an hour Rob Ashworth has created a thing of sublime beauty with this LP, with see-saw rhythms abounding that pull you into his private universe. Ideally you will consume in one sitting, as a whole piece of art it sits together so well. Frankly if we have to wait another five years for the third album I’ll be having stern words with the chap myself.

Official website
Listen to and buy Companion Waves


Cover of the week: Bhi Bhiman – Walk of Life

First in a regular feature on Bring Your Own Wine…

I don’t really like Dire Straits all that much, and I’ve never heard of Bhi Bhiman outside of this song, and to be honest I’m not that big on silent cinema (except for Paul Merton’s excellent documentary a couple of years ago)… however this is an absolutely fantastic treat for both the eyes and ears. Originally seen over on Cover Me – a brilliant website specialising in cover songs by artists old and new, in every feasible genre. Go look. After watching the below 🙂

Writer’s block (1): Knowledge

Wittgenstein famously wrote “[w]hat we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence”, before (naturally) reaching the logical conclusion of his deductive reasoning and never writing again*.

It is an odd thing but it has occurred to me for some time that the more you know, the less you understand – and thus the less you understand, the harder it is to talk about it. To use a very simple example: I know that the earth moves around the sun, but to truly understand this process I must have knowledge of gravity, mass, the composition of the planets and stars, the origins of the solar system… And that creates another layer of things to find out about, ad nauseaum, until the only way to truly understand why and how the earth moves around the sun is to have an in-depth fundamental understanding of particle physics and M-theory. Even once I have done that I still have competing theories to look into, as no-one has yet discovered a grand unified theory of physics.

That one example alone illustrates my point. The awareness that I lack knowledge, as defined above, is a debilitating awareness when I want to put pen to page and create something – be it an article, a story, or a song. This plays a part – though not wholly – in the dreaded writer’s block. How can I write without knowledge? This crippling doubt only increases with more awareness, perpetuating the cycle and ensuring that procrastination is the order of the day. Sure, I could attempt to devour the total sum of human knowledge from when we invented fire to when we invented the LHC, but even in the process of attempting to understand that, more currently unknown facts would come to light.

If the act of public creation is an act of sharing an idea, a shape, a phrase – then how can I share what I do not understand myself?

The key word in that last question is “if”. An “act of public creation” (I use the phrase rather than cumbersomely list the ways in which one can create) is not necessarily an act of sharing knowledge, it can also be a guiding path for both creator and the public. One of the underlying tenants of the often misunderstood philosophy of Absurdism is that the final destination is not the point, it is Sisyphus’s journey that holds the interest and meaning. If I write a story about – say – the political situation in the Middle East, it does not matter that I do not fully understand the subject. What matters is how it is told and what meaning I/the reader derive from it**. To put it another way, I barely understand what PCP by the Manic Street Preachers is on about, but it makes me want to jump around like a loon – so as an act of public creation it is a success.

Of course, some things are not meant to be wholly understood. Douglas Adams once wrote “[t]here is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable”, and in doing so he was in a way offering hope to those who cannot find meaning in a meaningless universe. The universe isn’t meant to be understood. It’s meant to be experienced.

The more eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that little (1) in the title. Coming up next are some thoughts regarding that even bigger cause of writer’s block – originality.

* Yes, I know he wrote Philosophical Investigations afterwards, posthumously published, but shush.

** This is not to say that one should write from a position of base ignorance.


Pale Blue Dot – picture of Earth taken from 3.7 billion miles away.