BEST OF 2011: 24. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat –Everything’s Getting Older

Bill Wells has released some wonderful work in various different guises. His two albums as leader of the Bill Wells Trio are borderline essential listening for anyone with an ambient-jazz leaning. His release with Isobel Campbell is worth seeking out and he’s played his part in some fine albums in association with Annie Whitehead, Stefan Schneider and Barbara Morgenstern. It’s not all glory, but his strike rate is pretty good. His new solo outing, ‘Lemondale’, is right next to the turntable as I type and will likely get a play in the next day or two. I’ll happily predict that it’ll be pretty decent at the very least. And all this before we even get to the wondrous talent of Aidan Moffat: one half of Arab Strap, magnificent solo artist and thoroughly endearing raconteur.

BW11

Emerging from the instrumental opener, ‘Cages’ comes on with disturbingly frantic strings and a trademark malevolent narration from Moffat. It’s excellent stuff, elevated to greatness when it slides into the chorus, which features the lines: “A change is just a new routine, a new function for the same machine. Are we ever truly free?” The combination of Wells at his playful best and Moffat at his, well, playful best is a potent force and this is not an album designed for shuffle. Clear forty minutes in your day, open the alcoholic beverage of choice and sink into a comfy chair. It’s like theatre. Moffat’s always been a master of lyrical storytelling and he’s in both fine form and voice on ‘Everything’s Getting Older’.

Side one concludes with ‘The Copper Top’, for which Wells throws himself into mournful swoops of strings and plaintive piano and over which Moffat tells us of the purchase of a three-piece suit for a funeral which, he muses, can then be used for next week’s christening too. For all the gleeful swearing and sexual aggression that can bubble wickedly in Moffat’s work, this simple track is an absolute joy and manages to be one of the ultimate highlights amongst superb company.

Next thing you know, normal service has been resumed with ‘Glasgow Jubilee’, the album’s other breathtaking moment. The resolute thud of the rhythm section on this is something of a shock to the system after what has come before, but the thrusting talk of whores and lying which sits atop it wouldn’t work any other way. It contains several lyrics which will make you laugh out loud, but repeated plays will reveal a masterfully constructed track and one of 2011’s finest songs.

If you didn’t take to Arab Strap then it’s unlikely you’ll be utterly smitten with ‘Everything’s Getting Older’, but, for the rest of us, it’s a joy to behold. Moffat, one of Twitter’s finest late-night, booze-fuelled, sweary-faced ranters, has already hinted at the pair working together again and it’s hard to think why they wouldn’t on this evidence. Here’s hoping.

A nice little shuffle

It’s the question that music obsessives hate even more than, "do you really need a fifth copy of that?" It’s the moment when the brain melts and it becomes impossible to act rationally. It’s the moment when somebody says, "so, what are your top three songs of all time."

How are you supposed to be able to answer that off the top of your head? It depends on the weather, time of year, the bloody time of day on some occasions. You can’t just nail three songs on, can you? Or can you? I try from time to time and get abso-bloody-lutely nowhere. I keep using bloody today. I’m trying to avoid too much fucking near the start of the piece. Ah well, not to worry.

Anyway, the good lady wanted her mp3 player filling up prior to a long journey and was sat alongside me as we scrolled through a quite disturbing number of tracks in iTunes. Now, I still don’t find this anywhere near as satisfying as rummaging through the racks for hours on end, but it offers a different perspective on the collection. What it’s really good at is throwing up odd songs that you’d pretty much forgotten about. 4 Non Blondes anyone? Clarence Carter’s ‘Patches’? Oh yes, just two of the delights I heard again this afternoon.

As these long-ignored tracks blare out, you suddenly find yourself thinking how good they are. Before long you’re vowing to listen to them regularly, only for them to slip into oblivion as quickly as they came forth.

So, rather than do a ‘my favourite tunes’ piece, I thought I’d embark on a shuffling project. I know it’s not a new idea, just look at most music based message boards right now and you’ll see this topic with umpteen replies. But, as I find it makes me dig out old records and influences my listening habits for the week, it might make interesting reading. Where possible, I’ll include the opportunity to hear the songs I refer to. Right then, let’s get this going with…

1. Maximo Park – Nosebleed

Loved ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ more than I could ever have imagined. I’d written Maximo Park off as another one of those ‘famous for fifteen’ indie types. I was, quite unreservedly, wide of the mark on that one. Both of their albums to date have the feel of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection about them, and this is a fine example of why. Any album that can overlook this, and yet still release four singles as fan-fucking-tastic as ‘Our Velocity’, ‘Books From Boxes’, ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and ‘Karaoke Plays’ must be doing something right. Can’t recommend them enough, and from what I’ve witnessed of them on telly and in print they seem like truly splendid chaps.

This performance of the track is from the Glasto 2007 footage that convinced me of their genius once and for all. Enjoy.

2. Super Furry Animals – Y Gwyneb Iau

I have to be honest about this one. When it first started I couldn’t be absolutely certain what it was. It is, it transpires, a lovely little tune. I’m accustomed to taking ‘Mwng’, the album from which this is taken, in one sitting as a result of having little understanding of the song titles, and thus the lyrics. Any Super Furries fans reading this who don’t have this little gem of a record should set about rectifying that oversight. It catches Gruff et al just before everything had to be quite so BIG. As close to a bare bones record as they’ve ever done, it contains some splendid moments, in particular Ysbeidiau Heulog. Listen here.

3. Bill Wells and Isobel Campbell – Somebody’s On My Mind

A recent addition to the collection, this one. Weirdly, the death of Kevin Greening over Christmas (see my other, more specialist, blog) brought about my interest in pretty much everything Bill Wells has ever done. I was listening back to a tape of Kevin filling in on Xfm’s ‘X-Posure’ show and he used a track from ‘Also In White’, Wells’ 2002 album in the background. Further exploration of his back catalogue led me to this little beauty. Combining minimalist beats and ethereal bleeps, the mini-album from which this comes, ‘Ghost Of Yesterday’ is a slow-burning collection of rather fragile pieces of music that serve to underline Isobel Campbell’s quite magnificent talent as a singer. Recommended, although nab Bill Wells’ ‘Also In White’ first. Listen here.

4. Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – Eleanor Rigby

Hmm. Not sure about the origins of this one. It’s labelled as ‘A Royal Performance’, although that could mean anything. It’s rather nice, in the sense that pretty much anything with The Brodsky Quartet involved tends to be. It’s a little bit ponderous, and the presence of Sir Thumbsaloft ensures the usual amount of teeth-itching. In fact, Costello doesn’t appear to be on the bloody thing at all. It’s sparse and beautiful thanks to the Brodskys, but I’d rather have heard Costello having a go at it. If you wish to subject yourself.

5. The Innocence Mission – Now The Day Is Over

This band came to my attention as a result of that lovely, lovely man, Richard Hawley. He has quite a regular presence on his own forums over at his website, and in amongst many other topics he’ll occasionally mention music he’s enjoying. He refered to the heartbreakingly delicate, ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’ by this band last year and over time I’ve added a number of their albums to my collection. This is the title track of one of their latter day albums. It’s not their best, but it’s still pretty decent. Karen Peris’ lead vocals remain as eerie and slightly juvenile in their delivery but the overall sense that you’re hearing something special remains throughout. Go get ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’. This, on the other hand, is here.