Timothy Sawyer Shepard is an artistic polymath, his disciplines stretching from visual art to 8mm video to installation work and now, finally, to an album. In a way, Long Ago Forgotten is a culmination of thirty years of work; in another, it’s a sampling.
Collage is the aspect shared across Shepard’s works. One finds this in the music, sampled from old records and discs, rearranged into new forms. Some tracks contain up to 100 samples, akin to the meticulous early work of Avalanches. Many first appeared in three-dimensional form, dubplates attached to walls. Ironically, when converted to digital, they have no form at all. For the most part, the samples are too short or elusive to identify, although occasionally one sneaks through, as if to underline its importance to the artist: most prominently, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” One also sees the collage aspect in Shepard’s cover art, an original work comprised of magazines and cellotape, and in the video for “Keep ’em Flying,” which was shot on expired film stock.
That piece makes an excellent entry point, thanks to the early crackle of vinyl and an accessible dialogue sample about making records. Some of the samples sound as if they are taken from 78s; others recall the opening credits of films. The upbeat nature of the track lifts it from the haunted ballroom genre, but the underlying principle is the same.
The flow of the album is a bit haphazard, despite the fact that the opener is titled “Flow.” “Flow” seems like a potential radio hit, sprinkled with sunshine, showcasing brass, guitar, and repeated “hoo-hoo-hoo”s. “Flowers” is a warped trip-hop song, Bessie Griffin’s unmistakable voice bobbing on a sea of shredded samples. “The Boxer” gets happy again, with trumpet, snare and melodic strumming. “As the Days Go By” pumps up the drums and loops jumbled dialogue, including the nonsensical “I’ll go and eat a lobster for you anyway.” (If I’ve misheard this, please don’t correct me). The slower “BlueWaltzForYou” loops its melody and preserves its tempo throughout.
Tracks 2, 4, 8, 10 and 11 are less dense and more abstract, and provide a window into the artist’s craft. One might compare these with some of Kid Koala’s more challenging experiments; but they do make more sense together. This way, one can appreciate how “A Step Away From Them” makes a jump in its final third from scene to theme; or how “Belle Skinner” transforms into a completely different song once the organ is added. Closer “Mobile Train Stop” splits the difference, inviting people to the dance floor, then thwarting any attempt to follow the beat.
When played straight through, the album seems more like two shuffled EPs: one for feeling and another for thinking. Should the EPs be separated like milk and cream? Perhaps; but then they wouldn’t be as much of a collage. (Richard Allen)