Album Review: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

bill wells and aidan moffat

This review originally ran in The List Magazine

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

The Most Important Place In The World

Chemikal Underground

(Four Stars)

There’s a lot to be said for the joys of winking. But it can also result in one veering off the rails – or road, of course – as the winking beat of the car indicator that opens this glorious album reminds us.

The second long-player from Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat starts with ‘On The Motorway’ – an in-car ode to being stifled, restless and bored, and to broaching crossroads (that way, temptation lies). It’s a fitting route into a record that navigates life, love and sex; that maps the body and heart (and other organs); that charts an insatiable yearning for the city (as temptress, guardian, grand passion and confidante). ‘The city wants to take me back … her legs are spread,’ sings Moffat in the opening track, atop the indicator’s rampant winking. Does our protagonist take the right turn? That’s for the rest of the record to intimate.

One thing is evident: if ‘On The Motorway’ signals a turning point, perhaps even a boundary crossing, then rest assured it doesn’t imply a change in musical direction for Wells and Moffat. The avant-jazz torch-songs and poetic cocktail-pop that defined 2012’s SAY Award-winning Everything’s Getting Older return with a vengeance (‘This Dark Desire’, ‘Far From You’, ‘Any Other Mirror’) – but there are myriad deviations too, including cloven-hooved Caledonian gospel (‘Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am’), pragmatic, euphoric electro-pop (‘The Eleven Year Glitch’), and a clanging, Tom Waits-ian jazz-skronk dirge (‘Lock Up Your Lambs’) – not to mention the shadowy vestiges of a guilt-averse power ballad on ‘The Unseen Man’ (‘They still won’t wink and they still won’t smile…‘).

Moffat duly rules the roles of noir-pop eroticist (‘Nothing sounds sweeter than a stolen sigh‘); raving, roving werewolf librettist (‘I howled a poem at the first moon I saw‘); and murmuring urban natur(al)ist eyeing up the city’s wild life (‘This is the soul of the city, her glory stripped, her passions laid bare‘) – while Wells’ exquisite piano melodies and jazz-by-stealth chorales are as fascinating and seductive as ever.

They’re brilliantly embellished by saxophones, trumpets and strings – and, of course, that winking indicator, whose monotonous rhythm reappears in the album’s swansong, ‘We’re Still Here’. It’s a heartening salute to moving on from crossroads and cross words, to roads to nowhere and resilience, to defying the odds, to staying power – to quietly celebrating the precarious art of getting by.

*

Related articles: I spoke to Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat about The Most Important Place In The World for The Herald.

Footnote: I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a few weeks back and closed the show with ‘Street Pastor Colloquy, 3am’ – you can listen again here.

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