“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Last time he popped by these parts to promote his solo album “Non-Believers”, Mac McCaughan picked an absolute pearler and “digital dub classic” by Lee “Scratch” Perry (RIP) with a cracking Superchunk tour anecdote, so naturally I had high hopes, more soaring than Mac’s own inimitable voice and higher than any of those seeds he was tossing around back in the early 90s when I was an impressionable indie kid and fanzine writer.
Mac is someone whose work I have followed closely – both for the original zine (“No Pocky For Kitty” is still a pivotal record in the gestation of Velvet Sheep and I remember distinctly reviewing Portastatic’s early efforts), and later via channel managing MTV2 where they popped by to pick some videos at the Camden HQ and into the Quietus reviewing “I Hate Music”). He’s now got a new solo record and it’s a real immersive, headphones number – salve for the soul, a hug for the heart. Called “The Sound of Yourself” (out this Friday 23rd September/tomorrow), it’s reflective sure, but never self-indulgent – more Sondheim than Superchunk.
Before we get to Mac’s latest song pick for our series (which is as you’d expect fully edutaining), here’s the video for “Dawn Bends”, a winsome yet winning song which features the full and esteemed Yo La Tengo and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster as the backing band.
There are plenty of other ear-opening cameos abound too, including Sabrina Ellis (A Giant Dog, Sweet Spirit) on “Sleep Donor” and Mackenzie Scott of TORRES on “Burn a Fax,” which features a layering of moody sax trax proffered by Merge artistes The Mountain Goats own Matt Douglas. There’s also the unsurprising addition of Mary Lattimore and her arresting harp – Mac had been recording an ambient project with Mary prior to the album. There’s also some quality harmonies from Michael Benjamin Lerner (Telekinesis) and Annie Hayden (Spent) if that’s your thing (how could it not be?)
“The Sound of Yourself” came at the back of tied up loose ends, with Mac sat at his home studio in Chapel Hill surrounding instruments taunting him to be played. With the weird warping of these times, covid and beyond, Mac needed some punctuation to the endless days, musical interludes and pinpricks of hope for the future as we come out bleary into the half light, hence what he hesitantly calls “a theme of subdued… ‘joy’” – songs of solace, with no real rules. Music partly influenced by his synth and sequencer work on the Moogfest commissioned POMS and a more recent film score, it’s a million miles away from the American existential Trump axis angst of Superchunk’s “What A Time To Be Alive” (how prescient did that title turn out to be?) yet of course it’s still unmistakably Mac – a high watermark of quality.
Got to love the Charlatans reminiscent bananas cover too. Pure potassium power pop and pontification.
But anyways, enough of the hyper enough hyperbole. Without further ado, here’s Mac McCaughan’s second “song for ewe”…
“Martha – Light Years from Love
If you’re anything like me, the idea of New Order with a woman singing sounds like a dream combination and Martha Ladly proves it on this fantastic 80s blast.
Ladly was in Martha and the Muffins but wasn’t the main Martha. This single features Peter Hook on bass, “pan pipes”, strings arranged by Simon Jeffes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra and glorious synth washes & stabs all topped with Martha’s charming vocals & an epic hook on the chorus.
The sleeve — I didn’t have the 12″ until a few years ago because this didn’t make it to the USA — was designed by Peter Saville. I can listen to this over and over. Consider me captured by a phantom light.”
THANKS TO MAC AND TO RACHEL FROM SILVER PR
Mac pic courtesy of Oona McCaughan
Check out Mac’s first “song for ewe” by the recently sadly departed Lee “Scratch” Perry here…