Back in November (ish) of 2015, I was lucky enough to get to get hold of a copy of Simon Godfrey’s Black Bag Archive, Vol.I and felt compelled to write a review.
When Simon announced that he was going to release these archives he said we would get one every five or six months. It has been just over a year and I dare say that this has prompted many suggestions from the Evil Record Company Boss, Mr David “David Elephant” Elephant, that involve crocodile pits and man-traps and nipple clamps and the wanton destruction of flower beds and the denial of access to simple human rights like chocolate and day-time television and crisps.
Black Bag Archive, Volume II just managed to come in over the 2,016 mile hurdles finishing line, breaking the tape on the 29th day of the last month of the race. Now, 2016 – that generally crappy year – is well and truly over and I still find myself listening to this album a couple of months into 2017. I’ve been writing this for months because I didn’t think my review was good enough to get your interest [Editor: your reviews are never good enough to attract any interest]. By how much did I miss the point? THIS MUCH!!!! The review should say whether, in the reviewer’s opinion, the material is good enough. Well, this is.
Volume I was a collection of salvaged tracks from unfinished projects, Volume II is a mixture of old and new. On the Bandcamp page for this release, Mr.G has given quite the essential breakdown of how each song ticks. But here is my attempt at giving you an idea of what the collection sounds like.
Firstly, you might need a point of reference. We like points of reference. They give you something to point at and refer to. It is as if Mr.G looked in my head and made careful note of some of my significant musical waypoints, then referred to them in these songs. I was reminded of such pointy referency artists as Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd and even 10cc – these are all bands that I like. But remember; “reminded of” and “sounds like” are not the same thing. This is unmistakeably the work of Simon Godfrey. That’s a good thing for me.
Epic, soft, hard, quasi-industrial, pretty, heavy, complicated, simple, beautiful, deceptively transparent – all of these are words that I know. They may not be big or clever but some of them apply to this mini-album which, were it vinyl, would be an album. Track 5, The Year, is a quarter-hour of progginess, albeit without any obvious Mellotron. Neither do I detect e-bow so I must, therefore, ask whether it is Prog? The answer is: Progably… a bit. Simon says that it is, but don’t let that put you off. Luckily there is a bit of time-warped vocal reminiscent of Prince’s female alter-ego Camille to compensate for the lack of traditional “prog” elements. I think that the lyric hints more at the political changes we have seen in what was, frankly, a mind-fuck of a year considering the title of the track. Perhaps my interpretation of this song as a tribute is merely coincidental given Simon’s description on Bandcamp and the losses that we all felt in 2016.
The tracks on Black Bag Archive Volume II are allegedly still misfits and orphans that don’t belong in any of his other projects. I found myself compelled to listen back to Volume I, looking for themes and similarities. I was looking for a thread that binds the two volumes. With the first volume Simon often treats us to some sounds that are initially more restrained but lead us into something else. With the second volume I found myself playing Papaya Whip back to back with She Has Tantrums. Although this track has a second half that builds, almost ex-nihilo and tension to a crescendo, I was struck with the impression that Papaya Whip and She Has Tantrums could be sister tracks. Volume I and Volume II are actually excellent stable-mates, but there is no repetition here. Just my impression. If you are fortunate enough to follow Simon on Social Media then you might be as intrigued as I; how does Mr Godfrey’s musical mind work beneath that thin veneer of bum jokes and surreal wit? The properties that Simon feels are absent in placing these tracks with the rest of his work are probably far too subtle for this dimwit to ever understand.
I was surprised when the sound of Goodbye Johnny Shines gave way to silence because the album went by with deceptive swiftness, not because it is a short album, it is a good 10-minutes longer than Volume I and even has that epic 14-minute track, but because I was taken out of normal space-time, distracted from reality, for forty-odd minutes. I am not disappointed in any way with this album. I would add it to the list of albums that you should buy in 2017, if I were you.
There is no physical copy available, just downloadable in high bitrate digital thingies like MP3 and FLAC. So go on, download it and then chuck this Black Bag Archive towards your MP3 player, Bluetooth it to your car if possible, then take it for a spin. It is quite splendid.
01. Teahead (6:55)
02. Blood In The Milk (3:30)
03. She Has Tantrums (6:07)
04. Genius (3:13)
05. The Year (14:40)
06. The Least Of Enemies (3:10)
07. Goodbye Johnny Shines (4:28)
Total Time – 42:03
Simon Godfrey – Songs, Vocals and All Instruments
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 29th December 2016