Tilly Wainwright reviews Seán McGowan’s latest EP
Seán McGowan: he’s one of our own and he’s back with the latest EP Curate Calm, Create Chaos (2019). Following the success of last year’s studio album Son Of The Smith (2018), the Southampton-raised “local lad” has been a part of the Hampshire music scene since the release of McGovernment (2011). Yet, his career has undeniably exploded since he signed with Xtra Mile Recordings in 2017. In recent years, we’ve seen and heard Seán on the tours and recordings of many of his friends – such as Frank Turner, Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly) and Skinny Lister. However, McGowan’s own tours are consistently sold out and in such demand that both the Son Of The Smith (2018) and Curate Calm, Create Chaos (2019) tours have been able to add extra venue dates to cope with the influx of supporters.
McGowan has been known for his The People’s Music (2012) persona and his music often beares a political edge that strikes a balance between revolutionary and just common bloody sense. Very much of the Billy Bragg school of thought, Seán preaches an overall need for community and togetherness that pervades a great deal of his lyrics. Curate Calm, Create Chaos begins with ‘I’m OK’; this song sets the album up with the characteristic authenticity and sincerity we’ve come to expect from Seán’s music. Containing the eponymous lyrics of the EP, Seán meditates upon “the lost and unsure” of society, an identity describing an ever-growing population I would argue. As the track name suggests, however, there is a sense of regeneration similar to something like Frank Turner’s ‘The Angel Islington’ that opens Positive Songs for Negative People (2015) in which Turner “resolves to start again”. It feels as if ‘I’m OK’ is the introduction of a new era in McGowan’s personal and artistic process.
Seán meditates upon “the lost and unsure” of society, describing an ever-growing population
We move on to ‘Heartbreaker’, a recognisably McGowan track punctuated with “darlin”’s and charming colloquialisms that maintain his “Mush” image. Both new songs are far more acoustic than the previous album – which undertook a decidedly heavier sound in terms of instruments and production. ‘Heartbreaker’ aches in a similar way to ‘Patchwork’ (Look Lively 2015), with the same kind of hopelessness that follows a broken heart. ‘Silk’ is the third song on the EP and first to be released as a single. It is concerned with the effects of social media: a topical theme on the public consciousness in the last couple of years. I think the song is most poignant in its line “she’s temporarily fine” which hangs in the air between instrumental verse breaks. The production of ‘Silk’ has more scope than the previous songs, featuring a strings section that certainly adds to the climax of the track. As a reworking of ‘Silk Cut’ from a few years ago, ‘Silk’ is undeniably resonant within our culture and asks some rather introspective, uncomfortable questions of its listeners – ones about their own relationship with validation.
‘Money’ feels more classically Seán, with a certain charisma rooted in the mundane details of coronation chicken sandwiches. It reminds me very much of the ‘Mind the Doors’ trilogy of Son Of The Smith (2018) which also makes reference to the idea of personal wealth. Having a card declined, for example, is an image that reappears at multiple points on the previous album. I think this song translates particularly well Seán’s likeability, even more than the others on the EP as his charming sense of humour works in tandem with his pursuit of an equal society. ‘Queen of the West’ plays us out of Curate Calm, Create Chaos and describes the effects of one individual within a community. We don’t need to understand the personal details to consider the theme of formative, matriarchal figures in our own lives. ‘Queen of the West’ reminds us to hold close to those in our own worlds who teach us about kindness and family and community, in a time in which they simply aren’t celebrated enough.
Ultimately, McGowan once again demonstrates the significance in the seemingly insignificant. Curate Calm, Create Chaos can be heard as a musical working through of many problems plaguing our society (loneliness, disillusionment, self-doubt etc), but suggests that solutions will not be found in the isolated lifestyle we can find ourselves being funnelled into. In turning to each other, remembering who we are as a collective, we might stand a chance in the face of these modern epidemics.