Benjamin Shaw’s debut album, There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet, has been a long time coming. After releasing his debut EP, I Got The Pox, The Pox Is What I Got, in 2009, Shaw did little of any note. While the EP was well received by those who heard it, Shaw remained a bit of an outsider, not really making any significant impact. His debut album, though, should change all that. Not that Shaw has reinvented himself for his debut – it’s very much in the same mould as his debut EP – but what he has done is fine-tune his unique, buzzing lo-fi atmospherics, resulting in an emotionally absorbing experience.
The album kicks off with the title track, although it’s more of an introduction to what’s ahead, with hazy industrial noises, jaunty piano and Shaw’s softly-softly vocals. It’s followed by How To Test The Depth Of A Well, which utilises a marching band drum, piano and twanging guitar, as Shaw pointedly sings: “But you shouldn’t waste your time on living, if there’s nothing in it for you / and you shouldn’t give your heart to Jesus, he’ll only turn it blue.” Lyrically, Shaw is on top form, including thinly veiled digs at the Tories, among other sharp social commentary.
Somewhere Over The M6, the first single taken from the album, features a gentle acoustic guitar and a looping noise throughout that sounds like a cross between the opening of a cash register and something from the classic arcade game, Space Invaders. The song builds towards an epic, wall-of-sound finish, with a sprawling electric guitar and haunting backing choir joining the euphoric foray. It’s indicative of Shaw’s arrangement of sound for the duration of the album, highlighting his ability to mesh together the ordinary and obscure to create a truly immersive experience.
Hey, Where’s My Deputy? is a heartbreaking, if slightly weird, slow number, one that is full of static atmospheric noise, as Shaw sings about fear and domestic paranoia. It captures a trend in Shaw’s lyrics to observe the unremarkable. A quality that makes There’s Always Hope… so downright lovable. There is further evidence of Shaw’s worldview in Interview, during what sounds like an impromptu strum on the acoustic guitar, while he bemoans: “I’ve got an interview / tomorrow at 10 / for a job I’ll hate / I’ll get to pretend.” We’ve all been there at sometime or another. This delicate, melancholic track is the closest Shaw’s sound gets to Sparklehorse, a band he often cites amongst his influences.
Shaw’s penchant for witty lyricism – something clearly set down by the album’s title – rears its head again on The Birds Chirp And The Sun Shines, as he sings about plotting to murder his work colleagues, strangely, to one of the lighter melodies on the album. The leisurely acoustic guitar pulls at the heartstrings, while a repetitive clapping sound and swirling strings lift the song skywards. The album closes with a mesmerising seven-minute piano ballad about – of all things – The Incredible Hulk. “I’ve got rage and you’ve got power and we’ve both crooked teeth / I can’t describe what I think about when I’m inside,” sings Shaw, in an achingly beautiful conclusion to the album.
There is little doubt that Blackpool-born Shaw is a precious talent, with a fine ear for intricate details. The nine songs that make up There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet are laced with sounds from everyday life that complement his lyrics about city fears of love, life, work and death. The album is not instant, it does take more than one listen to really ‘get it’. However, the more you listen, the more you realise what a truly special album Benjamin Shaw has made.