Artist: L. Pierre (Arab Strap)
Catalogue Number: melo 027
Year of Release: 2005
Notable features: All record information (tracklisting, recorded where by whom etc.) is printed white on black inside the sleeve, which is a lot cooler than it sounds.
A2 Rotspots from the Crap Map
A3 Jim Dodge Dines at the Penguin Cafe
A4 Baby Breeze
B1 Capitol Hill, Lair of the Satans
B4 Total Horizontal
Q1. Why is my sleeve as above, when everyone else seems to have the more risque sleeve, pictured left?
Q2. Why is Capitol Hill, Lair of the Satans not on the CD?
Q3. What would Schopenhauer have to say about it?
Q4. Why is two questions not enough, that you need to come up with a silly third one to fill the gap?
All these questions, and more, will now singularly fail to be answered. Except maybe Q3.
The Lucky Pierre project was started by Aidan Moffat because he wanted some music to be able to fall asleep to, and the earlier releases certainly fulfil this modest ambition. This LP has some more upbeat numbers on, but speaking as a man once-famed for his ability to fall asleep anywhere, I'd only really have difficulty nodding off to A3, which we will come to in its turn.
To begin, Crush comes on a bit like a Godspeed You Black Emperor! outtake, the initial impression being of descending orchestral strings and plucked guitars. This doesn't last long though, as it becomes obvious quite quickly that these are sampled loops, layered for that effect, and when the beats start (slow, languid programming) the Godspeed effect is gone. It plods along nicely for a few more minutes.
I missed out on 2002's Hypnagogia album, but the difference between the material on here and the early single I own is marked. Instead of two or three loops repeating constantly, there are upwards of 10 samples per track, well-deployed, and occasional guests musicians. Rotspots from the Crap Map doesn't have a guest, but has a lovely orchestral swell and cinematic feel, nudging the album in it's upbeat direction, and introducing track 3 pretty well. Jim Dodge Dines at the Penguin Cafe is a clear nod to these guys, and probably this man too. There's a jolly, almost horsey beat, giving the track a western feel that is in turn compounded by steel guitar (guest musician 1: Dave MacGowan from Arab Strap's live band) and Tijuana brass(!) samples.
The last track on Side A recovers the earlier mood though, and has some rather nice birdsong samples, which, although I'm no expert, I'm going to say are red shanks. Guest musician 2, another guitar, is Malcolm Middleton, and the track could have done without it to be honest. He doesn't ruin it, but neither does he add anything more than a sampled guitar line would have.
And this reveals, I think, the crux of the issue, why I'm struggling to like this record. I've always thought that good music is good music - it doesn't matter how it's made, or who it's by. Great songs are great songs, full stop. But I found myself thinking whilst listening to this album that I might consider it to be a much better piece of music if I knew that it wasn't clobbered together with a sampler. If Aidan had actually sat down and written the music, then got people in to perform it, I might like it a lot more than if he'd just picked some nice sounding things and pitch-shifted and time-stretched them to fit over a lazy beat. (I can see that this sentiment might contradict my comment above regarding Malcolm's contribution, but trust me, it doesn't really).
I've been reading a book on Schopenhauer by Julian Young, and the comments on music struck a chord (pardon the pun) with me thinking along these lines. Here's a quote:
"Schopenhauer regards music as lying beyond the scope of his general theory of art and as needing a separate philosophical interpretation. For whereas other arts represent the everyday world (as 'Idea'), music does not.
So is music non-representational? This was the opinion of Leibniz, who described music as 'An unconscious exercise in arithmetic in which the mind does not know it is counting'; as, in other words, a system of sounds which, while no doubt pleasant, are without meaning, without reference to anything beyond themselves.
But this, says Schopenhauer, has to be wrong. music is universally recognised as a 'language', as saying something, something, moreover, of the utmost profundity. It follows that it must be representational, must be related to reality as a 'copy'. But since it is not a copy of the world as empirical representation [it must be] a representation of the will. Other arts represent the will too, but only music has direct access to the will, provides us with an immediate copy of it. It follows that music is the profoundest, the highest of all arts... [and] takes us directly to the very essence of things".
Schopenhauer also dismissed the use of imitative birdsong or battle sounds in music as 'programme music', incompatible with the true nature of music. My guess is he wouldn't have liked this album, but it's much more Leibniz's bag.
Side B then. The opener, and apparent vinyl-only bonus (hurrah!), is not as demonic as the title would suggest, but maintains an air of suspense with a continued high-pitched drone over the otherwise sparse drum, guitar, bass and harp loops. Fan-Dance is more elaborate in comparison, more layering of strings and piano. Next track, the short Velbon, is the closest to what sounds like an unsampled piece on here. The main loop itself (for it is a loop, don't be fooled) is long and Satie-esque, lightly sprinkled with delay effects. Light strings skirt around the track as if they don't want to step in it.
Closer Total Horizontal is a more obvious loop based track, typical of the album's first side, and with trumpet (guest 3: Allan Wylie, also of the live band). At nigh on 10 minutes it's a bit long, but you could quite easily nod off to it.