L Pierre: Touchpool

Following upon 2002's Hypnogogia, Touchpool is the second L Pierre release from Arab Strap member Aidan Moffat. The new album retains the simple but effective formula of the debut—grandiose, string-heavy orchestra samples underlaid by drum machine beats—yet subtly fleshes out its sound with contributions from live musicians (like Malcolm Middleton, Moffat's Arab Strap partner, on guitar and bass); sounds are conjoined seamlessly though, so there's little to sonically differentiate a 'live' element from a sampled one. While the debut was cobbled together from pieces created over a five-year period, Moffat approached Touchpool with the clear concept of an album in mind. That more deliberate focus can be heard in the seven tracks' contrasts of mood and rhythm that are so central to the album's effectiveness.

Its atmospheric ambiance is established at the outset by the sombre “Crush,” its dense interweave of cellos and violins seeped in vinyl crackle and punctuated by rimshots. Moffat applies a similar approach to the mid-tempo “Baby Breeze” (the name inspired by a woman in a 70's Penthouse magazine) but it remains more a melancholy exercise in hypnotic string shimmer than a memorable composition. A similar lack pervades the closing track, the dreamy “Total Horizontal.” While its swaying, step-by-step rhythms are appealing enough and Allan Wylie contributes some memorable trumpet playing, it too remains more a mood piece.

Touchpool impresses strongly elsewhere, however, due to the marked contrasts between songs. In “Rotspots From The Crap Map,” Moffat crafts a portentous base of understated Latin-flavoured rhythms and then layers sweeping surges of orchestra samples on top; the similarly exotic “Fan-Dance” features a slinky, Eastern-tinged rhumba overlaid by chimes accents, piano sprinkles, and a stirring violin motif. By contrast, a Beethoven sample is used to conjure the poignant elegance of “Velbon” (the title a conflation of Beethoven's initials and Eno's name); sounding like some resurrected slab of vinyl from the 1920s, Moffat smothers the piano with dusty crackle. Best of all, though, is the buoyant “Jim Dodge Dines At The Penguin Café.” The song is so unashamedly upbeat, it literally begs to be dismissed as twee by the jaded; those less cynically disposed will deem it a breath of sparkling fresh air. After an intro of swinging, country-salsa rhythms and dense strings, Dave MacGowan's singing pedal steel appears followed in short order by some irresistibly sweet gypsy violin and mariachi horns. What sounds awkward on paper translates sonically into a delightful concoction.

By current electronic composition standards, Touchpool is simple, even quaint; don't expect to be awed by the sophistication of its programming, for example. The album's appeal doesn't stem from the complexity of its construction, however, but the quality of its results and, in that regard, the release makes a memorable impression.

February 2005