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"Mope-fi" troubadour, and famed sardonic drearmonger Benjamin Shaw is donning his raincoat once more for album numero dos, Goodbye, Cagoule World. Shaw sculpted himself a reputation for off-kilter acoustic ditties with his debut LP There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet by erring towards majestic non-conformity and madcap jiggery-pokery. He reels off a gamut of emotions, ranging from Eeyore-level depression to the snide, subdued grumps and everything in between. Optimism and glee aren't devices Shaw implements regularly, and he's always been far more comfortable dabbling in the dark arts/sadness and it's emotional paraphernalia. That's not a criticism; someone's gotta be 'that guy', and at least Shaw's approach has been consistently glorious, albeit gloomy.

For his second full-length effort - well, there's 7 tracks (mini-album?) - that prior m.o. evolves. There's odd moments of pep, and while it's not an overwhelmingly cheerful release by any stretch of the imagination, there is a peace, a rested contentedness, that prevails even the murkiest miasma. His penchant for bleak humour is part of the reason: there's a song loosely based on Magneto from the Marvel universe ('Magneto Was Right') and cheeky digs at his format ('You & Me'). It sounds like Shaw's come to terms with some massive life trauma, or endured intense emotional upheaval; it's the kind of record that uses humour to mask pain. He's in no way 'over it', but progress has been made, and the worst is over.

Though there is an ease coming through Shaw's music, there's this niggling sense of apathy too. There's a world-weariness, a genuine exhaustion that's evident in the shambling ramshackle pace of the album as a whole, in his vocal lethargy and emotionally drained soul. It's as if this life-changing event requires Shaw to recharge his batteries immediately, and in sounding as worn-out as he does, he imbues the record with a streak of hypnagogic chillaxedness, blurring the lines between coma-pop (one up from dream-pop) and acoustic semi-folk.

Interspersed with random rolling timps and saxophone solos, the album provides plenty of nuggets that'll entice your ears, sometimes out of pure curiosity, but the clear highlights are the aforementioned 'Magneto Was Right'. With '50s Hawaiian slide guitar, much like Bugs Bunny on a tropical island, it stands out as a summery delight, and one of best examples of hope. The other standout segment is 'You & Me'. Laced with synthpop whirring and indie hooks, it's more robust, gung-ho and proactive than much of Shaw. It verges on epic, rekindling memories of Frank Turner and pop-punk groups doing acoustic covers of '80s hair metal.

Recycling aged public service announcements, droning shoegazer FX, brittle acoustic guitars (replete with fretbuzz) and myriad lo-fi indie and folktronica elements, Shaw creates an intriguing timbre to the entirety of Goodbye, Cagoule World. It's dilapidated and in desperate need of a spit-shine, but therein is a hefty chunk of its allure. It's experimental and oddball enough to remain interesting throughout without being aloof, and it survives many repeated listens because of that. Shaw may be pop's outsider - something many outlets noted upon his entry into the world of music (Clash even called him a freak, though they meant well) - but with this release, he shows a faint desire to join the central fold. Perhaps it's due to resolute defeat, but still, that counts, right? ...right?

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