Monday, 7 January 2008

Aidan John Moffat - I Can Hear Your Heart (Chemikal Underground, 2008)

While his former partner in crime Malcolm Middleton has been exploring his poppier side with last years 'A Brighter Beat', Aidan John Moffat has been cooking up a rather less commercial, distinctly darker and far filthier offering. Essentially a collection of what Moffat describes himself as 'erotic poetry', I Can Hear Your Heart is an exploration into adultery, domestic violence and the dangers of going out to parties in your pyjama bottoms. A mish mash of musical influences pepper the soundtrack to these mini poems, from crackling, aged samples of film scores and torch songs, through to monotone electric accordion sounds and crunchy drumbeats.

Opening with the found sounds and brooding strings of 'Atmos', the album then hits you square between the eyes with the wonderfully frankly titled 'Cunts'. Effectively an old Arab Strap rarity about colloquialisms for genitalia (how darling!) given new life as a short little ditty about gender politics, the woman refuses to use 'the c word' as a euphemism, instead using it to, in Aidan's words, 'deflate my wee ego'. 'Nothing In Common' is the first real stand out track, an exploration of the slow burning decay of a doomed relationship. That moment when you realise that beyond the basic lust of attraction, you have nothing in common. A kitchen sink drama, the couple sitting watching films they despise, he 'hates Dirty Dancing with a passion' and she 'hates words on the screen'. In the adjoining track 'Hopelessly Devoted', Aidan shows why he has always been a great writer, his uncanny ability to take a moment in life we take for granted as a happy time and distort it to make it bleak and darkly funny. In this case, the preppy teenage daydream that is Grease, imagining Sandy and Danny's relationship a few years on, reduced to a boring, sexless mess. Here it is in full...

'How did it work out for Sandy and Danny? Did she turn into a cow, did he turn into a fanny? Did they run out of joy to turn into song, was their sexless pretense dragged out too long? Did their cute little habits soon become bains, did they try not to fight in front of the wanes? Did he swing for her once, but stay open handed? How long did love last when greased lightning landed?' ('Hopelessly Devoted')

The next real stand out moment is the wonderful 'Good Morning', a strangely beautiful piece about cheating and guilt. Amongst the depravity and acerbic wit of the rest of the album, this is a little glimmer of beauty and love. Basically a man who, having just cheated on his girlfriend moments before, climbs into bed trying not to wake her. She awakes briefly laying her head on his chest, quietly exclaiming 'I can hear your heart'. There is something utterly, heartwrenchingly beautiful about that phrase and I must admit my eyes were a bit damp upon hearing it. The rising, swooning strings in the background only adding to the romantic intensity of being so in love that you listen to your lovers heartbeat. A quietly beautiful moment in an album of sorrow, violence and lust.

Following this rare moment of clarity and beauty there is the wonderful contrast of an interlude that breaks away from the overall story of the album, in which Aidan delivers one of the most daring pieces of poetry to ever come out of his mouth. Entitled 'All The Love You Need', it is a brave and shocking dissection of racism and prejudice. Essentially the poem is a stream of all the worst racial terms known to man, in the wrong hands this could be a horrific piece of pure hatred, but there is no chance of this when handled by a deeply intelligent thinker like Moffat. I believe the point of this poem is to highlight just how awful it is to be racially abused, as the listeners ears are filled with racial slurs, we experience what it must be like to hear them shouted at you every day. I think it shows us that if we wince and shy away from these words, then how will we ever defeat the bigots that use them. Within this 30 seconds of poetry, Aidan Moffat has gone from been a delightfully sleazy Scottish version of Serge Gainsbourg to becoming a peoples poet, a radical voice for a generation.

As the album rattles back on to the story we are presented with bleak tales of domestic violence ('You Took Well'), affairs with American girls ('International Valentine) and angry boyfriends ('4sex Message 2'). 'I'm Not Bitter' sounds not unlike very early Arab Strap, a mix of wonderfully out of tune singing and a filthy, scratchy cheap drum machine. There is a naivety and amateur feel to this track, it ends up being very charming. 'The Boy That You Love' is the nearest the album gets to a real song, longer in length (even though it still doesn't reach the two minute mark) and more tuneful in approach than the other short bursts of poetry and sound. It's a story of desperation and love in late night Glasgow, a girl enamoured with a boy who 'made her make up run' and 'made her heart hurt', all underpinned by a lilting, looped sample of a simple piano. 'Double Justice' is a strange tale of an awkward threesome between a girlfriend, her boyfriend and her ex, a song stinking of filth and guilt and, like all the greatest songs Arab Strap ever recorded, it makes you want to go take a shower after listening.

The closing track is where this record really stops being a musical project and becomes a collection of Moffat's writing. Entitled 'Hilary And Back' it is a nine minute plus short story, unaccompanied and uninterrupted by music. In short it is a story of Aidan, under the influence of too much drink, crashing a party dressed in his pyjama bottoms and a jacket full of beer due to 'leaving the flat in a drunken hurry, with no thought to my outfit'. He enters the party as a new person as he assumes a false name, and a false back story (including wonderful lies about driving an ice cream van and being abandoned in Australia as a baby!). Then follows a romantic tryst with a 16 year old, a bus journey in a blonde wig and a broken mobile phone, the last words of the album being 'And then I remembered my phone was fucked'.

The wonderful writing and effortless construction of a story within this album makes one hope that one day Aidan John Moffat will write the great British novel of the 21st century. He could even write a film, as there is something beautifully cinematic about this record. For now I guess we have this amazing work of art to tide us over.

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