John Callaghan: It Might Never Happen
Uncharted Audio

It Might Never Happen features ten loony tunes John Callaghan produced between 1994 and 2007 using 4-track, samplers, sequencers, and assorted found sounds (though Callaghan's first single appeared on Warp ten years ago, the aptly-titled collection is actually his debut album). That the songs are undeniably wacky shouldn't, however, be interpreted to mean they're lacking in musicality. Callaghan apparently created melodies from a pitch-shifted fork and generated bass lines from a buzzing fly so, yes, there's tomfoolery in abundance (one can only begin to imagine what body parts he might have sampled for “Sleepy”), but it doesn't conceal his talent for pulling enticing hooks out of his hat. That very well could be a crow's caw functioning as a rhythm loop in “Femme Fatale” but it's finally the vocal melodies that render the song memorable. Lyrically, his material focuses on the human body (he cites nude modeling as one of his professions) and clothing (“How On Earth Did You Get In That Dress”), but the lyrical content is predictably overshadowed by the sonic lunacy.

“Deja You” sets the tone with its oblique organ and woozy melodies, but it's trumped by “Tear My Body Out,” a macabre call-and-response romp between Callaghan and a deranged choir of chipmunks and ghouls. Though his high-pitched voice sails over a demented keyboard's blurps and croaks during “This Time Next Year,” his singing generally could be characterized as something close to Phil Oakey possessed by Syd Barrett's spirit. Radical vocal treatments and experiments abound: in “You Get Me Down,” Callaghan shifts the position of each word in the main melody like a ricocheting billiard ball and then ups the ante by layering the result over a complex web of looped voice fragments, while he uses a hocketing technique in “Sunlight for the Soul” to assemble the vocals into their proper sequence. He slows his voice to a guttural crawl in “Cuts Both Ways (or: Not Heartbroken Yet),” allowing elegant couplets like “Open your mouth and shut your eyes / And you'll be great at catching flies” to be heard clearly, before sharing the mic with a roomful of guests in an overbearingly loud coda. All in all, Callaghan's wacky music-hall pop may often teeter like a drunken carousel but is refreshing nonetheless.

January 2008