Updated on July 20, 2012: Just last week, John kindly sent me the link to the video he made for Phylactery. As you might imagine, it’s every bit as brilliantly seductive as the song itself:

This post of mine still gets a large amount of traffic, which is testament to his beautiful lyrics and inimitable sound (I just happened to point them out). What a joy it is for me to relive this song all over again, I’ve yet to tire of it and I can’t imagine I ever will.

What follows is the original post from November 2009.


I can think of about a fifty new songs worth playing for you all, and maybe ten or so in need of a deeper discussion, but none is more worthy than this unconventional beauty from John Callaghan. I have followed John since his debut on Warp in 1998, and that incredible little 7" entitled I’m Not Comfortable In My Mind remains one of my most cherished possessions, not only for it’s rarity, but for it’s intensity and ingenuity and individuality. Truly, no one else in the world can make music quite like John.

For as much as I love and still relentlessly collect Warp’s releases, there are few songs on the new Recreated double CD that rise above the novelty of it all. Certainly the Born Ruffians’ cover of Aphex Twin’s “Milkman / To Cure a Weakling Child” ranks near the top, but after that I find the rest to be wholly disappointing. Fortunately, John takes on my least favorite song off of Autechre’s flawless Cichli Suite EP and turns it into one for the ages. Here’s the original for reference:

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“Tilapia” pales in comparison only because the other four songs define the pinnacle of Autechre’s classic 90s sound. Yes, it’s a fine song, but it feels a bit out of place in the context of the others. Quibbles aside, John’s remix is more of an homage, finding inspiration in the click track, square-wave baseline, and that same sense of the song withdrawing into itself. It’s masterful:

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The instrumental track alone shines brightly enough, but it’s even better with the vocals, which in turn are made even more meaningful by that strange and unfamiliar word in the title. If I understand it correctly, a phylactery is an object used to contain a soul. What else is music if not the same?

So I’ll keep on talking
for as long as I can
warm you with my embers
hoping you’ll remember
as I leave my debris
like temporal graffiti
audition for your memory
oh please don’t forget me

And these souvenirs
are fragile and small
so mark where they fall
I need them to prove that I was here at all

Like a stone makes ripples
like a stone I’m sinking
create a puppet of me
to occupy your thinking
I leave a thousand footprints
and a million echoes
a million flawed impressions
in the people I know

And these souvenirs
reflections of John
I will be gone
I need you to carry them so I live on

And these souvenirs
momentos I make
forming my wake
you were my phylactery so keep me safe

As I continue to uncover what it means to be me, and unravel what it is I am put here on earth to do, I find comfort and encouragement in those who also hunger for meaning and a deeper connection to all that is. There’s a certain futility in living to be remembered, but as best I can tell there’s nothing wrong with creating something of lasting value. I should be so fortunate that my work touches another soul, that someone else chooses to carry it forward, that what I have accomplished with my life lives on in some small way.

3 Responses

  1. On Nov 22, 09, Shaun said:

    better than the original? Tilapia is one of AE’s best… the worst track on sickly sweet, i don’t think so

  2. On Dec 31, 09, Blog.WBRU | The Best Music of 2009: Blog Favorites said:

    [...] Listen to “Phylactery” Ok, so this is where my list gets a little weird. I’m a big IDM/drum & bass/acid fan, and was thus thoroughly excited by the Warp20 Box Set. It came with a “Recreated” disc with covers of Warp hits by Warp artists. This track was standout on the record (along with the Born Ruffians cover of “Milkman/To Cure A Weakling Child”) – a cover/reinterpretation of a Autechre song with haunting yet beautiful lyrics. I think this is honestly one of the most beautifully crafted songs of the year, if not the past several years. [...]

  3. On Mar 28, 10, spectoral said:

    I can’t get over this song, and how much it relates to our emotional humanity.