released October 1, 2010
All tracks written by Fraser McGowan and Colin Morrison.
Performed by Fraser McGowan, Colin Morrison, Richard Kengen & Bartholomew Owl.
Recorded by Fraser McGowan, Jonnie Common & Alex Fenton.
Mastered by Paul Goodwin.
Post Mastering by Mark Beazley.
Cover artwork by Heidi Kuisma, layout & design by Jonnie Common.
Thank you: Chris Gowers, Euan McMeeken, Patrick Porter, Stevie Kearney, Alex Fenton, Paul Goodwin, Jon Attwood, Mark Beazley, Jason Perrins, Fraser Reid, Heidi Kuisma, Eagleowl & Jonnie Common.
Small Town Boredom are Fraser McGowan and Colin Morrison from Scotland.
Their seminal debut album of quiet melancholic lo-fi torch songs, ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’, was released by The Remains Of My Estate in late 2007. The unwavering band and label ethos 'to make something of beauty' meant that the record was released as a limited vinyl LP with download, resulting in minimal promotion but warm acclaim.
A soundtrack for intense self-reflection, ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ forges affecting melodies from delicate instrumentation, subtle field recordings and lo-fi ambient experiments.
Songs are achingly paced and underpinned by dark, confessional lyrics, sung with uniquely heavy-hearted vocals which were described by one critic as 'exuding a kind of lethargy of broken dreams'.
Their second album, 'Notes From The Infirmary', was released in 2010 and returns to the fragile arrangements and hushed vocals that made their debut such a vital record. However the sound is more focused, starker, and fraught. Following the warm melancholic haze of ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’, ‘Notes From The Infirmary’ feels immersed in the cold light of a new day, with anguished electric guitars and percussion, and culminating in a fall-out of feedback, screaming vocals, and finally lethargy and hopelessness.
There has been just one recording since, the track ‘Polaroids For The Coming Winter’ which appeared on the compilation ‘Trampoline Presents’.
However Fraser McGowan remains active with the solo project Caught In The Wake Forever.
Artists thrive on emotional extremes, moments of unprecedented joy or crushing sadness. It is easier to transcribe these feelings into music. Middle grounds are much too complicated to address with music, the confusion, the mood swings come fast and what would seem like a perfect fit with one’s emotions at one point make no sense after a few minutes. They lack clarity. Melancholy drenched songs in particular seem to connect better with the receivers of music than their happier counterparts. Steven Wilson, mastermind behind Progressive rock group Porcupine Tree, once introduced one of their saddest songs “Stop Swimming” by saying “this next song is a very sad song, but if you’re like me, you’ll find that the saddest songs are also the most beautiful”. I find this to hold true.
If we extrapolate that notion of sadness and beauty and address Small Town Boredom’s sophomore album, we would find that this album oozes all forms of beauty. With a sound echoing that of early nineties bands like Codeine and Low, they are able to produce an honest and very well written album that would please all those yearning for a good dose of catharsis. Why catharsis in particular? Well isn’t the main reason people enjoy melancholy inclined forms of art the fact they get to purge themselves from these emotions vicariously, without having to endure these feelings themselves. A chance to get in touch with something that they fear having happen to them in their daily lives but have a concealed attraction to them nonetheless. We hear songs about loss, tragedies and misfortune because it’s almost human nature to feel an attraction to all of these feelings. It makes us more human in the sense that we get to discover a different aspect that we like to keep hidden from the world and expose our vulnerabilities and enjoy that exposure.
Mainstream media propagates the idea of the “Macho” man, the alpha male, and all that nonsense. It has become some sort of taboo for men to cry or feel vulnerable or compassionate. Feminism leads women to think that they should become rigid creatures, to hide their inherent emotions so that they become equals to the macho image of men. Notes from the Infirmary contradicts these schools of thought, and accepts the human form with all its weaknesses and imperfections.
Described by the band as an album to listen to on the morning after a night of drinking in solitude, “the harsh, sobering morning after, a life now in reins, a record full of regret, disappointment & broken faith. It is definitely a different musical prospect when compared to the music normally covered on the pages of Fluid Radio. The reason for that being that the album revolves around the vocals and lyrics sung. That of course doesn’t mean that the music takes a back seat, not at all. The music is somber acoustic guitar lines with varying elements entering the mix every now and then. A guitar melody here or a piano there, but all is done tastefully, and without intruding too much or taking the spotlight from the vocals. They are done to accent the lyrics, and they succeed in doing so.
Album opener “Song for Mathew Leonard” starts off with a sparse guitar line playing in the background to the mournfully sung vocal line and it keeps that mood going until they declare that “Now that Mathew’s gone, I just have to hold on” and a guitar solo enters to end the song on that note. The next track “White Cart Water” is the only instrumental track on the record and flows like a track by Norwegian lofi band, and the hugely underrated, Monopot which gives way to “Black Cart Ways” which progresses in the same manner as their first track did. Pressing on their feelings of languish and aching the listener even more.
The only moment in the album where the listener gets some sort of release is seen in the penultimate track “World’s Most Unwanted”, which talks of the inability to find peace and introduces a huge wall of yells and distorted guitars that bury the main piano line deep underneath. However, the piano line remains audible as if to remind the listener of what caused this turmoil. This is not a purposeless yell, it came from somewhere deep inside and it has been building up throughout the preceding five songs.
At only thirty minutes long, Notes from the Infirmary, is a rather short record and one really wishes it would have lasted a bit longer. A feeling echoed by the band in the last track in which they tell the audience “I never wanted this to end”, but it ends, and it leaves the listener in a state of contemplation. Reflecting back on the album makes one feel thankful for the tiniest things in his/her life, even the sad bits, because at the end these little things are what make life worth living. An excellent album.
- Review by Mohammed Ashraf for Fluid Radio
Una nenia di Mark Kozolek quando i Red House Painters rappresentavano il meglio del catalogo 4AD. Lo slowcore di The Curtain Hits The Cast dei Low, mai tanto minimalisti come in quell'occasione, elevato all'ennesima potenza. Il lato a (ma, a ben vedere, anche il b) del vinile di The White Birch, opera con la quale il mito dei Codeine ha trovato definitiva conferma. Questo, e molto altro, passa per la mente nel momento in cuisi beneficia delle essenziali, fragili note di Song For Mathew Leonard, il brano di apertura di Notes From The Infirmary, secondo album di Fraser McGowan e Colin Morrison (che segue di quasi quattro anni Autumn Might Have Hope). Dietro la sigla Small Town Boredom, in effeti, si nascondo due musicisti scozzesi che hanno fatto di bassa fidelta, massicce dosi di melanconia e abuso di qualsiasi liquido dall'altra gradazione alcoolia riescano a recuperare una ragione di vita: per calarsi nelle loro realta (virtuale, verrebbe da dire), e necessario sapere che utilizzano esclusivamente strumenti acustici che accrescono l'intensita e il pathos di melodie eteree, a volte dolci/amare, spesso inframmezzate da lunghi silenzi che rappresentano il valore aggiunto di un'opera la cui belleza e d'obbligo custodire come capita con i segreti piu preziosi. 4/5
- Gabriele Pescatore, Il Mucchio magazine
A poco più di due anni dal sorprendente esordio "Autumn Might Have Hope", il duo scozzese formato da Fraser McGowan e Colin Morrison offre un secondo capitolo della sua narrazione del grigiore e del senso di abbandono espressi nella sua musica e nella stessa denominazione Small Town Boredom.
In coerenza con l'understatement già ampiamente palesato nell'album di debutto, "Notes From The Infirmary" giunge quasi inaspettato, senza nemmeno un annuncio da parte dell'etichetta (l'ottima Trome, alias The Remains Of My Estate), peraltro a sua volta reduce da un prolungato periodo di stasi.
Eppure, in questi due anni e mezzo qualcosa sembra mutato, quanto meno a livello estetico-formale, nei catatonici bozzetti sonori di un duo che coniuga in maniera eccelsa linearità melodica, narcolessie barziniane e modalità realizzative casalinghe. Innanzitutto, questa volta l'album è prodotto in una curata edizione in cd, rispetto al solo vinile limitato di "Autumn Might Have Hope" e, soprattutto, segna una significativa variazione sotto il profilo espressivo e di scrittura: laddove, infatti, il disco precedente si atteggiava ad articolata narrazione, costituita da quattordici pezzi di atmosfere e durate varie, "Notes From The Infirmary" condensa in sei brani lo stadio successivo di quelle speranze autunnali disilluse, sussurrate con grazia trasognata e dolce malinconia, ovvero l'inverno di un animo fiaccato dalla vita, che nella musica cerca sollievo dai propri patimenti.
Non a caso, tra i versi sostenuti dalla costruzione melodica incrementale di "Song For Matthew Leonard" si leggono scarni messaggi di perdita e rimpianto, racconti di notti insonni in preda a distacchi appena leniti dalla trasformazione in senso più fluido e deciso del dialogo tra arpeggi acustici e avvolgenti loop in media fedeltà.
Già da tale "biglietto da visita" emerge con una certa chiarezza lo sviluppo della cifra sonora del disco, sempre improntato a un mood invariabilmente dimesso, ma connotato da un confortevole abbraccio di atmosfere intime e ovattate, alle quali un contributo fondamentale è stato senz'altro apportato dal lavoro post-mastering di Mark "Rothko" Beazley. A field recordings granulari e stille acustiche al rallentatore si affiancano di tanto in tanto nel corso dell'album toni e riverberi che incorniciano di un'aura trasognata e caliginosa melodie virate in seppia e dal passo talora pesante (in particolare in "Black Cart Ways").
Nastri scorrono serafici in sottofondo, ad affiancare sospiri torbidi e instillando una certa inquietudine su delicatezze acustiche e saltuari intrecci vocali ("Void Lighting"). Ma lo spleen degli Small Town Boredoms continua ad avere un sapore quasi dolce, come quello della serena accettazione di una condizione generata dalla propria sensibilità, decisamente più contemplativa che irruente, visto il registro slow/sad-core prescelto per la musica chiamata a veicolarlo. Unica deviazione dallo stato di tensione latente è rappresentata dal minuto di spasmo elettrico compreso nella parte finale di "Worlds Most Unwanted", che corona con un urlo strozzato (!) la trama di un brano sviluppato tra piano cadenzato, torsioni ritmiche, un crescendo quasi post-rock e progressive sospensioni temporali, dilatate fino al completo silenzio che prelude alla brusca - e imprevedibile - esplosione.
Eppure, persino in quest'occasione il duo non smarrisce il proprio impressionismo melodico, che torna a farsi deliziosamente sonnolento sui battiti indietronici della conclusiva "Moments For Denial", che conduce il lavoro alla sua conclusione, mentre Fraser canta imperturbabile "I never wanted this to end", chiudendo così il cerchio del nostalgico senso di mancanza che corre lungo tutta la scarna ma pregevole produzione degli Small Town Boredoms. E chissà che la difficoltà nell'affrontare le cose che finiscono non possa essere in qualche misura riflessa proprio sull'estrema concisione di "Notes From The Infirmary", disco che termina la sua corsa appena raggiunta la mezz'ora di durata, lasciando l'impressione di una nuova pregevole prova da parte del duo di Paisley, la cui ritrovata linearità e concisione compensa più che adeguatamente l'apparente minore immediatezza di brani modellati come piccole miniature nascoste nell'ombra. 7.5/10
- Raffaello Russo, Ondarock.it
Scotland has something of a propensity for producing miserable music, though I suppose given the perpetually dour weather conditions, a notoriously poor diet and the unfailing disappointment of our national sporting teams it isn’t really surprising. You only have to look at some of our main exports in terms of alternative music over the last twenty years for evidence – Arab Strap, Ballboy, Mogwai, and more recently the likes of The Twilight Sad and Meursault. By far the most archetypal miserable Scotsmen I’m aware of though is the Paisley duo Small Town Boredom. Really it’s something of a wonder that Fraser McGowan and Colin Morrison have survived long enough to make a follow-up to 2007's terminally bleak debut Autumn Might Have Hope, I’m incredibly glad they have though.
Notes From The Infirmary draws from the same sonic palette as it’s predecessor, consisting mainly of sparse arrangements of hushed guitar tones, subtle bubbling electronics and field recordings positioned neatly behind McGowan’s blunt murmurings. The best point of reference would probably be to consider it a refined and slightly more polished take on early Arab Strap, and indeed even from their own previous effort they’ve refined an album down from a slightly trying fourteen tracks to just six here; this is misery at it’s most concise. Opener ‘Song For Matthew Leonard’ is the perfect introduction to the way they find comfort in self-loathing with it’s languid plucks and gravelly vocals slowly coalescing to a blustery noise as McGowan drawls lines like “So what’s the point in fame\When everyone you love goes away”. It might only be the second track but the instrumental ‘White Card Water’ already has the feeling of being a bit of a soothing respite, and even an indication that there might be sparks of brightness amidst the mire.
Tracks like ‘Void Lightning’ do have a bit more optimism about them though, with it’s rippling guitar line offering a sense of distance which makes it easier to stomach than the cramped almost claustrophobic production found elsewhere. The real let off does finally come though, on the debut there was a sense of repressed anxiety which never edged out of control but here there’s one passage of intense catharsis on ‘The World’s Most Unwanted’. The song wallows in glimmering minimal piano for a while before finally erupting in to a cacophonous swell of wailing guitar, crashing drums and anguished screams, it sounds like the noise Small Town Boredom have been desperate to make for a long time and have finally reached a point where it can no longer be quelled. It’s utterly majestic, even more so because of it’s isolation.
In some ways Notes From The Infirmary has had a fittingly low-key release, and although some may find it frustrating to have to invest such patience in sorrow it really is deserving of it. If you have the slightest tendency to wallow in your bad moods for a while then do yourself a favour and allow Small Town Boredom to soundtrack those moments, because you’re unlikely to find another artist as in-tune, both lyrically and aesthetically, with what music ought to offer at those times.
- Chris Tapley, The Line Of Best Fit
Paisley’s Small Town Boredom are finally set to release the follow up to their debut record ‘Autumn Might Have Hope.’ The new record will be released through Trome Records and entitled ‘Notes From The Infirmary.’ All I can really say is thank goodness for that! I’ve been sitting on this record for far, far, far too long and have been holding back my review of it for what seems like forever now. So long, in fact, that when I told Fraser I wasn’t sure about whether I’d keep the blog going he was gutted as I’d promised to review the record. I also have an interview with him from way back, which has been sitting waiting to be posted online near the time of release. Hopefully that will see the light of day soon. Put simply, I have to write about this record and this band. I just cannot sit back and let this great record go unnoticed, which I fear may be the case. And if it is the case it would be a real tragedy as this record is as good, if not better, as anything I’ve heard released this year in Scotland. That comment will undoubtedly cause a few rumbles and grumbles amongst you all but the simple truth is that this record has been brilliantly thought out and executed. I guarantee had Arab Strap released this the plaudits would come thick and fast. I think the genuine reason for this record’s success is simple. It’s only 6 tracks in length, proving that quantity is never as important as quality. I remember when the Strokes debut ‘Is This It?’ was released way back when, what struck me was that the brilliance of the record was not each individual track but the length of the record as a whole. 30 minutes, or thereabouts. 10 more minutes and I think the record would have been ruined. The type of music, the lack of a change in pace and intensity, just couldn’t cope with more. In truth, The Strokes nailed it. They got it spot on. Well, though this record is a million light years away from the sound of The Strokes, the same rule has been applied. Were this record to have 10 minutes more music on it I just don’t think it would have the impact it does. Where debut ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ clocked in at 14 tracks, this record is short, succinct and the overall impact benefits from this very fact. Whilst sometimes its predecessor, though stunningly beautiful in places, lost focus and felt overly long, this record is clearly the product of songwriters who have matured, grown in stature and know exactly what they want to achieve. 8 songs less than the record before yet double the impact in the process is quite the achievement. This is an assured, confident piece of work and does leave you longing for more. Whether we get more, time will tell.
Lets face it, this is mood music. If you pick this up in your inbox or at a record store and fire it on the stereo on a bright summers day whilst you enjoy an ice cream, you’re probably not going to get this at all. If you listen on a dark night, with the rain on the windows and a glass of red wine in hand, you’re going to get it big time.
‘Void Lighting’ is quite simply one of the most wonderful songs of 2010 and ‘World’s Most Unwanted’ and ‘Moments For Denial’ are not far behind in the brilliance stakes. Aidan and Malcolm may have left an opening for the title of ‘Miserablist Kings of Scotland’ and had Small Town Boredom had more attention in the past I’m sure they’d have grabbed it without contest. It’s just a shame more folk have not discovered them. Now’s the chance. Grab yourself a copy of ‘Notes From The Infirmary’. Check out Small Town Boredom here. Enjoy.
- Euan McMeeken - thesteinbergprinciple.wordpress.com
This is quiet, very quiet indeed. I can hear the footsteps of the last remaining Norman Records workers over the top of it. The guitars are picked delicately and intimately and the vocals are hushed in the extreme. The vocals immediately remind me of something, I guess one could be Tindersticks and also Sophia but there's something else - its on the tip of my tongue. Its been pointed out to me that the first track sounds like 'Cody' by Mogwai. The album is the perfect example of a slow burner, each track takes ages to reveal itself, there's certainly something of a very miserable The XX in the overall sound in that the guitar and bass work together mainly playing only single notes and certainly never anything too fancy. The albums strength seems to be in this simplicity and understatement, I saw an idiot on TV saying that the next XX album should have more players and strings on it but to me that would ruin it, similarly on here you occasionally wish for some colour and variation but maybe that isn't the point. Its gonna be too miserable and one dimensional for some but in going down this route they've created quite a singular vision. 4/5
- Norman Records