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Lucky Pierre - Hypnogogia

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Artist: Lucky Pierre

Album: Hypnogogia

Label: Melodic

Review date: Feb. 13, 2003

The Sleep of Reason Produces Mixed Results

Lucky Pierre is better known as Aidan Moffat, the man responsible for Arab Strap's sordid, riveting tales of birds, booze, and quotidian ennui. Unremitting mumbled miserablism is Moffat's forté but he doesn't say a word on Hypnogogia; this is an album of instrumental moodscapes largely built around symphonic strings and simple beats, laced with piano, horns, woodwind, guitar, and the occasional sampled voice.

Moffat has always been something of a bedroom auteur, not necessarily in a lo-fi sense but in a chronicler-of-sex-and-debauchery sense. Here, he gives new meaning to bedroom auteurism, having reportedly conceived of Hypnogogia as a record that would help listeners sleep. With that in mind, the beatless, ethereal string and piano textures of "Ghost One" and "Ghost Two" sound like the perfect prescription for the drowsy state between wakefulness and sleep that's invoked by the album title. Unfortunately, however, few of the other tracks are as successful as these two short numbers.

While Hypnogogia's sweeping string arrangements tend to wash over you and the addition of Bontempi organ-style beats can feel a tad awkward, the major problem is that this material often sounds disappointingly generic; even when the arrangements are varied or expanded, they rarely seem to rise above the level of run-of-the-mill mood music.

There are some compelling interludes -- like the standoff between strings and white noise that ends "The Heart of All That Is" -- and the trip-hoppy "White Heaven in Hell" works well enough with its eerie, thin guitar and Portishead groove. For the most part, though, Moffat doesn't find a way to translate his considerable talent as a distinctive storyteller to this new context. Here, he doesn't convey his ironic sensibility or his dark humor and these pieces often sound rather colorless, one-dimensional, and, save for a few kitschy elements, earnest.

Some of this music feels like an early Disney film score. With chant-like female vocal samples and oboe, "The Bit in the Woods" has overlaid beats that bring it perilously close to Enigma territory; "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" tests the patience with a repeated operatic sample of the title line. Tracks like these beg the question: would we even be giving this record serious attention if it weren't by Aidan Moffat?

Moffat's Hypnogogia is particularly disappointing when compared with Arab Strap cohort Malcolm Middleton's recent solo release, 5:14 fluoxytine seagull alcohol john nicotine. For their solo efforts, each has taken on the other's role. Middleton, the man known for crafting the dark, claustrophobic accompaniment to Moffat's words, claims center stage, picking up the microphone his partner has laid aside; in contrast with Moffat's instrumental project, his venture into a new realm is successful (in the bleak, confessional way that fans of Arab Strap will enjoy).

It might be worth offering a caveat here: I've been listening to Hypnogogia wide awake and I've made no attempt to use it as it was apparently intended, so perhaps I'm judging it by the wrong criteria. But if I were to listen to it in a hypnogogic state, I'm not sure I'd remember the music well enough the next day to write a review.

Moffat's work with Arab Strap has set high standards. Consequently, listeners have high expectations and it's difficult not to feel the absence of his vocals or Middleton's sparse guitar. What Hypnogogia illustrates is that there's a fine line between music that helps you sleep and music that puts you to sleep. This mixed bag often falls on the side of the latter.

By Wilson Neate

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