Although releasing his fourth album, Woebot’s reputation has been most consistently formed around his significant record collection and capacity for discussing that collection with eloquence and originality. Through his blogging, numerous writings, infamous ‘greatest records’ list and recent publication of 100 Lost Rock Albums from the 1970s, Matthew Ingram established himself as a unique and perceptive commentator who had amassed a deliriously large and varied quantity of music. His musical output appears obsessed with sample and process, whilst the previous record, ‘Chunks’, synthesised these knowledges with a deft collagist touch to create a dissolution of rock music’s hierarchical forms and expectations. Yet from these open, communicative and ambient forms, built around technology and musical interaction, ‘Hallo’ emerges with a return to formal ‘song’ structures, of live performances, and physical instrumentation, albeit in oblique forms, rather than experimentation with sound and sample.
The pieces here are ostensibly very direct and simple compositions, emphasising single elements, two repeated guitar chords or a plucked riff, composed mainly for purposefully amateurish guitar and drums. Yet, alongside the flat drawling vocals, introduced quite unexpectedly for the first time, these weird sketches end up avoiding cliché and with their rudimentary playing completely re-situating perceptions of their instruments. Although no obvious manipulation, MPC sampling or digital retouching is apparent, the instruments are arranged with a samplers eye for form, combination and abrupt shift, that renders elements, the use of hushed melodica in Electric Cigarettes for example, novel and beguiling.
Seemingly both personal and autobiographical, the immediate melodies and one word titles help create an eccentric, digitised pop-folk record that takes peculiar and unexpected observations from various genres. Although somewhat at odds with this persona, it is hard to shake the presence of Woebot the writer. His lists and book reveals an interest in the outsider or bedroom musician, the Skip Spences or Thomas Leers; isolated and fervently creative. Here there is a kind of impression of that figure, Ingram’s London dance music aesthete re-cast as troubadour, but the wit and banality of his observations never let this escape a field of self-deprecation.
The idiosyncrasy of the record creates a sense of isolation, a sense only escalated by the multi-tracking of vocals, but the final emotional position of the record is much more complex, bittersweet and funny. The three unaccompanied, repeatedly descending notes of Rave Bum frame lyrics concerning the slight absurdity of the communal experiences of aging ravers; a dissection that is somehow both ridiculous and melancholy.
The record, in its own re-situation and assessment of what is important to its forms, echoes Ingram’s comments when interviewed about his ‘interest in how musical history gets rewritten’. The music here is uncanny in how recognizable and yet distant it remains; a meeting of old and new held together by those wonderful bathetic lyrics and off-centre singing.