The Audio Antihero anthology show rolls on. After collections from Benjamin Shaw and Fighting Kites, it is the turn of the latter’s guitarist and Kirigirisu Recordings founder Neil Debnam, AKA Broken Shoulder, to have his various odds and ends gathered into one release—Shark Islands: A Broken Shoulder Archipelago.
For those unfamiliar, Broken Shoulder utilises looping guitar lines, field recordings and noise to weave soundscapes that appear both minimalist and fully-formed, Debnam possessing an exceptional ability to balance beauty and chaos. Which is how his songs manage to span the entire spectrum of moods, from pretty tenderness to needling dread, and blend a careful expertise with experimental, improvisational fluidity. In doing so, Broken Shoulder acts not only as a solid counterpoint to the frenetic Fighting Kites sound, but also as a pertinent soundtrack to contemporary life—bridging between the human and inhuman, organic and digital.
Shark Island (Crow Versus Crow Session)
I had no idea when I recorded this session quite how important a part of my life the Crow Versus Crow radio show would be. Huge thanks to both Mr Audio Antihero for arranging this and for introducing me to a show that would in turn introduce me to so much good new music and uncover a whole scene that I was not really aware of. And big thanks to Mr Crow for letting me do a session. It has always been an honour to have my stuff played on his shows alongside a lot of excellent music.
This version of Shark Island is a classic example of what I feel is a later version of a song being better than the original. In spite of it being played live there seems to be less obvious fluffs in it than the original (a large portion of which I should say was also recorded live), and there seems to be a more defined structure, whereas a lot of the original was improvised and consequently there was a fair bit of searching for where the song was supposed to go.
Oak & Mirrors (Crow Versus Crow Session)
Oak & Mirrors is named after the ceiling of a pub I like. The song first appeared on the Tape of Disquiet release and was my love letter to the first Tortoise album or at least this bit (the middle section) was. I always thought this would be fun to do with a band, but then maybe the Tortoise rip-off would be even more obvious than it already is. Guess it would sound better to call it a tribute rather than a rip-off, but if the cap fits…
Don’t Get Caught In The Treads
I’d been trying to get this ‘field recording’ of my keys rattling whilst I walked over some loose drain covers in Kawasaki into a song for a while and finally managed to do so [on the Bern Yr Idols Audio Antihero Compilation], combining it with this nice little Papa M-like guitar part. What can I say, I wear my influences on my sleeve. Think I must have got a new bubbly noise maker before I recorded this, as I seem to be enjoying using it a lot on this track. Perhaps a little too much actually. I like the occasional extra-loose drain cover sound the most on here.
Can’t deny that as much as I might pretend otherwise, I really love playing these kind of big riffs. And I think I like it even more when they are slightly fluffed as this one is at times. It was probably recorded at very low volume though. I’m also enjoying hearing that £20 Argos acoustic guitar. That was probably the most fun to play guitar ever. And excellent value too! If you only listened to the start and the end of this song, you’d probably never imagine it was the same piece.
I’m shocked about how many things surprised me listening to these songs. Perhaps that says equal amounts about my memory and my creative process. I miss some of that gear I was using back then. Some items have been returned to their owners, some have broken.
Morning Is Broken (Resonance FM Session)
This session was pretty terrifying. No pressure, just LIVE ON THE RADIO! It was a lot of fun though and the host pointed out something I’d never noticed before which was that in times of tension and stress (the interview), I clutch my broken shoulder. Not sure how exciting for the audience my interview was. Actually can’t recall any of it apart from the shoulder clutching. I’ve always loved this song.
There’s an unintentional Stereolab rip-off that was only noticed the next time I listened to the Stereolab record. And of course the song is much longer than it normally is. That’s one of the perils of live-looping and general panicky performance I guess. Fame-wise, it was probably all down hill from here. I can hear the fear in the playing, but hopefully you can’t. The key to not getting found out is when you make a clanger, just repeat it, as if that’s what you meant to do.
That’s a real bass guitar being used in the session but you’ll probably be shocked to hear that the marimba at the end is actually a keyboard! WOW!
Family Banana Coaster
Perhaps this title is internet searchable but the ride is now gone. I never rode the family banana coaster. It looked a bit tame. I would have been more interested in an adults only banana coaster. Although having written that, I can now understand why such a name would never be used for fear that it would be misconstrued. This bass riff had sat on my loop station for ages since a Fighting Kites rehearsal where we were trying to write some new songs. It never worked for FK but I always loved it so was delighted to finally have a chance to give it an airing.
This is almost like a real song with a verse and chorus and everything. Except there’s a dropped beat in the loop which makes it sound all pleasantly awkward.
Other Tropisms (The Wrong Rock Show Session)
Thanks to Jamie, this session made me huge in South Africa. Well, maybe not exactly, but it was once again lovely to be asked to do something for people to hear who would be way out of my normal path. It’s funny that the session was a split one with Jack Hayter as although we share a birthday we are musically pretty different. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying his tracks on this session though.
Listening back, I’m really pleased with the version of Other Tropisms on here. This is another one where the version recorded after the actual release turned out to be better than the original. Learning how to play stuff live focuses the mind a little, but at the same time restricts in an interesting way. The title came from a video I found I think in the Prelinger archive. Naturally I used it to make a ‘promotional video’ for the song. I can’t imagine how many extra sales it resulted in. I quite like it though. Should probably make some more videos.
Who Is Samuel Cocking? (The Wrong Rock Show Session)
Who IS Samuel Cocking? I know who he is, but maybe not many people do. If you visit Enoshima you might see his name. I’d like to say the song is a tribute to him, but, like many of my titles, the name has very little to do with the actual song. It’s just a result of me finding it amusing. I am easily amused.
I’d kind of forgotten about this song and am enjoying listening back to it. It has a big sound of the Japanese summer on there, an insect buzz that sounds like static, and has the sound of the crows in Yoyogi Park too. Perhaps the same crow that tried to attack me at a later date. I felt like screaming to it ‘I’m a long term vegetarian and animal lover, leave me alone!’ They may be very smart creatures but haven’t yet been able to pick up on my thoughts telepathically.
The bicycle bell also comes from Yoyogi Park. I like it when that chimes in. There’s also something that sounds like an approaching storm, but I suspect that might just be wind on the mic with a lot of echo on it. Spooky, eh? Had forgotten about the guitar twiddling at the end. It probably is faded out before a massive clunky wrong note, but quite like the way the guitar appears to be running late, has a quick look around and then pops off again.
Uff/Magow (WVUM Session)
Another session, another radio station, another country. I believe that this particular session has some added personal significance for Mr Audio Antihero but I’ll leave him to spill the beans on that if he wants to. This time the session was a double header with Benjamin Shaw, reuniting the Southern Records warehouse dream team, this time in musical performance rather than the packing of music product. I’m pretty sure these tracks were recorded live, as was my preference when doing sessions, perhaps because I was brought up on the idea of Peel Sessions. Sadly, I did it in my living room rather than a BBC studio. But they sound pretty good I think.
This session also featured a decent version of ‘Morning Is Broken’, a title which I always thought was quite amusing to me, but most people probably presumed was me just making a mistake with the title of the hymn. I kind of miss the days when I used to make little songs like these with maybe even tunes and structures, but deep down inside, I think my heart was always set on ploughing a big old drone furrow, even if people would prefer it if I hadn’t.
This version of Uff/Magow never made it to the broadcast but I’ve put it on here because it’s quite different to how the recorded version sounds. To be honest, that first album is a bit of a mystery to me now. I can’t remember or imagine how those songs came about, with their structures and parts. This version features a nice little guitar freakout at the start which is always fun to do, and the sharp cut into the song itself works quite well for once. I wonder how many times I had to try that before it worked well enough to use. The name of this song is another one of my secret titles that has a lot of meaning to me but almost certainly no meaning to anyone else. This song was always a lot of fun to play live and listening to it makes me want to go and pick up my guitar again. Actually, I probably should as I’m supposed to be recording a new thing featuring only guitar, but instead I guess I have to go to work. Hmmmm, slick ending to this song too. Well done me!
Ultimate Donko (WVUM Session)
This version of ‘Ultimate Donko’ features another extended guitar ‘work out’ at the end that was usually elongated when I played this song live due to the fact that I had to try to subtly fade out the main loop with either a finger or a toe whilst continuing to play. Seemed to work out quite well this time though and I’m pleasantly surprised listening again.
Another big old riff, probably played almost silently again in my living room to avoid annoying the neighbours. The Crow Versus Crow session version is a lot more sedate and delicate because it doesn’t have the bassline but in this version I seem to remember that if you isolate the bass part it sounds like it could be a Slowdive song! I was having computer trouble whilst recording this and couldn’t listen back whilst recording in real time so I put loads of reverb on the bass and hoped for the best. Really like how it came out. Like most of my favourite Broken Shoulder songs there’s probably too much going on but it just about hangs together and almost sounds kind of triumphant. At least to my ears anyway.
Give yourself a pat on the back reader/listener. You made it to the end of the album!
Shark Islands: A Broken Shoulder Archipelago is out now via Audio Antihero and Old Money Records and you can get it from the Broken Shoulder Bandcamp page.