Monday, November 24, 2014

Five Years of Audio Antihero

Five Long Years cover art

An antihero is, put simply, someone who does heroic things but doesn't behave in a heroic way. Wolverine is a common example; he fights on the side of good, but he's a drinker, a smoker, and a bit of an all-round curmudgeon, none of which are normally considered to be heroic qualities.

Let's apply this trope to the music industry. A traditional 'hero' would be the label who put out catchy, accessible music that everybody instantly loves. Audio Antihero, on the other hand, have a slightly different approach:

"We know, we know. You THINK you want a squeaky-clean pop song, but deep down, that's not really what you're looking for. Here's the music that you really NEED: some wonky punk stuff, a folk song that sounds like it was recorded in the bowels of a ship, and a nine-minute droney thing."

I only came across Audio Antihero last year. The first AA release I listened to was There is Nothing More Frightening Than The Passing of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band, and while that one grabbed me more or less immediately, it was followed by left-turn after left-turn after left-turn.

Some weeks after I blogged about There is Nothing More Frightening, I was sent another AA album to listen to: Comfort Songs by Cloud. I was hoping for more of that Superman Revenge Squad magic, (i.e. instant three-chord classics), but instead, Comfort Songs was a lush, sprawling album of proggy indie and quasi-orchestral arrangements. It was far more difficult to get into, but I got there in the end, and now I hold those warming sounds rather dear.

My third foray into Audio Antihero territory was Goodbye, Cagoule World by Benjamin Shaw, and once again my expectations were shot down in flames. This album was full of sick-sounding songs and deliberately creaky arrangements, and I'll admit that, at first, I had absolutely no love for it whatsoever. But I persevered, and just like There is Nothing and Comfort Songs before it, Cagoule World now has a very pleasant effect on me indeed. The creaky-groany likes of No One and Magneto Was Right are almost soul-cleansing:

And now there's Five Long Years, a compilation that AA have released to celebrate five years in the business. It features a few familiar tracks (Mother Sea by Cloud, Lately I've Found Myself Regressing by The Superman Revenge Squad), but for the most part, these tracks are unfamiliar to me. And - you guessed it - each one is its own new challenge.

For example:
  • Broken Tamagotchi by Nosferatu D2 (a rocked-up, broken-up math-punk extravaganza)
  • Of Course I Stole the Train by Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences (a bizarre cross between The Damned, Bernard Cribbins, and the music from Tom & Jerry)
  • Stille Nacht by Broken Shoulder (the aforementioned nine-minute drone)
But while each track in turn utterly subverted my expectations, I'm wise enough now to see that I like this music. Of Course I Stole the Train is amazing in its bonkerness, and even Stille Nacht sounded very nice when I was curled up in bed on a Sunday afternoon in November.

Incidentally, this whole compilation is available on Bandcamp, and it's pay-what-you-want (I paid £0.00, but I'm kind of hoping that this blog post will make up for my cheapskateness). If you're unfamiliar with Audio Antihero, I'd definitely recommend that you download it; AA may not be the heroes you want, but they're absolutely the heroes you need.

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