Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 24th July 2011 at 9:07pm

Jonnie Common - Master of NoneIt doesn't seem long ago that I was writing about "Deskjob" and stressing the point that whilst it was many things - indeed many very fine things - it certainly wasn't a Jonnie Common record. This album however, is exactly that. And despite his long association with the Scottish music scene - most notably as part of Down The Tiny Steps and Inspector Tapehead - it is in fact a debut solo release. It's perhaps this itinerant personality which the title "Master of None" hints at - as a jobbing reworker of others songs, a reliable band member who can turn his hand to a range of instruments, or indeed any number of other associations, Jonnie's name seems to be everywhere at times. Except of course, until now at any rate, on his own records.

From the outset on the quiet "Heir To The Throne" the links to Jonnie's past work are evident. However, shorn of the complexities of a band, and left to his own devices it's a somewhat different delivery which follows. With a lyric which seems to hint at the lurid detail of the Kennedy assassination before exploring the genetic complexities of future fatherhood, this is a beautifully uncluttered tune constructed from vintage electronics and plucked guitar. On this opening track, Jonnie's voice is a low drone - but by "Infinitea" the tinkling percussion is hidden within a multi-tracked rant of a vocal which dips and dives around the melody. Jonnie seems at his most comfortable with this curious half-rapped, half sung approach which hints at both his own work in Inspector Tapehead and occasionally perhaps The Beta Band. Scots vernacular worn proudly on his sleeve, Common spits seemingly nonsensical couplets which resolve into perfect little haikus and curious observations with the sense of a living notebook or found snippets of conversation from people passing by. It fits wonderfully with the sometimes gentle and sometimes jagged tunes which are spun on "Master of None".

"Shogun" is perhaps a touch more traditional, a gentle ballad with a contrastingly violent lyric in keeping with it's title. There is a sheen of electronics, including some dashes of old-time Casio demonstration tunes among the jingle and jitter. Mid-song things break down into a strange carnival-tune interlude while a battle-scarred Jonnie wryly observes that "loving you is like a martial art". As "Hand - Hand" begins I find myself thinking of Chris Knox as it's constructed around a weirdly percussive vocal loop much like his solo work and some of the Tall Dwarfs output. Meanwhile a funereal organ sets up among a mass of fantastically self-indulgent bleeps and beats, while a gruff, distant voice urges "Sing for us Jonnie!". And then he's off again, the straight-outta-Fife rapping notched up a gear as he ponders environmental responsibility with "when I leave this planet/I don't wanna leave a mess" alongside a curious question about whether horsehair is obtained from living animals or corpses? I'm going to need to do a little research now, just to be be sure.

"Bed Bugs" keeps the lyrical pace up, as Jonnie delivers a full-on stream of consciousness rap among skittering electronic breaks and some pop licks which wouldn't have sounded out of place on chart hits from the 1990s. As a blogger who seems to have constructed this site around the weird interface between travel and music it's oddly satisfying to hear the rail service between two principal cities used to mark time and remind us how things rattle on despite our dramas, with the accurately noted "...but the trains keep doing it/Waverley to Queen Street every 15 minutes". There are more knife-sharp observations of life's strangely significant little moments in "Exit Stage Left", a short and uncomplicated tune built around a moody drone, crunchy static and lots of atmospheric bleeps. Jonnie's trademark ranting is imbued with a little hint of the monastic chant here too. If there is a sure-fire hit on this record, for me it has to be "Summer Is For Going Places" - a lazy, shuffling beat and a banjo with odd vocal samples looping through the ending. It's a lazy, summery swoon of a song about departures and homecomings, and it's one of the most assured vocal performances on the record too. The album closes with the epic "Photosynth", which was previously the star of a tiny 5" CD available at Homegame. Given Jonnie's pedigree, this is surprisingly perhaps the only entirely electronic track on "Master of None". Clattering beats, clunky old electronics and strange samples meld into a gorgeously warped backdrop. Meanwhile a stream of garbled lyrics trip out, often resolving into neat little sketches and impressions. Suddenly things fall silent for a minute or so, before a weird reprise arrives after a breakfast cereal commercial, based around the same beats with a truly low-budget keyboard finale. It's a fitting end to a strange, disorientating and unashamedly experimental record.

With "Master of None" Jonnie Common has pulled off an interesting perspective trick, as things at first seeming small and distant are delivered close-up and large as life. These songs, constructed from tiny fragments of sounds, of tunes and ultimately of lyrics, become much bigger and fully-formed propositions once they've passed through Jonnie's hands. The range of approaches here, from almost straightforward folk songs to electronic epics demonstrates the man's talent admirably, and with this context it's a little easier to understand his contribution to previous releases with which he's been involved. But on this first brief and refreshingly simple selection of songs on his own terms, it's time for the man himself to step out from behind the mixing desk and take a bow. "Master of None" is often charming, occasionally unsettling and always surprising.

Jonnie Common's "Master of None" will be available as a digital download or vinyl LP on 1st August 2011 by Red Deer Club Records. A pre-release vinyl offer includes a full immediate download, and a CD-R featuring an alternative mix of the entire album. The album will be launched at The Captains Rest in Glasgow on 31st July.

Jonnie Common - Summer Is For Going Places



I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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