Aidan Moffat has a knack for a musical partnership. Having first come to attention as one half of Arab Strap alongside Malcolm Middleton from the mid-90s to the mid-00s – as well as a recent triumphant run of reunion shows – his later pairing with jazz musician and fellow Falkirk native Bill Wells saw the pair bag the inaugural Scottish Album of the Year Award for their 2011 debut Everything’s Getting Older. Now it’s the turn of guitar virtuoso RM Hubbert, perhaps best known to Irish audiences for regular stints supporting Mogwai on these shores. The pair already teamed up when Moffat guested on the acclaimed track ‘Car Song’ from Hubbert’s 2012 album Thirteen Lost & Found (incidentally, the second winner of the SAY Award) but the popularity of that track in particular proved there was more gold to be mined from this partnership.
Somewhat typically of the usual work of both, Hubbert has joked that during the writing process “I would basically send off ten songs about death, and then they would come back about shagging”. This duality would appear to give the album’s title a unique double meaning, neatly representing the narrative intentions of each.
Back in his Arab Strap days, the kitchen sink realism of Moffat’s often hungover and regretful lyrics felt autobiographical, as he recounted the sordid drunken betrayals of a 20-something’s love life. Having long since settled down and left this sort of life behind, Moffat has evolved into something of a master storyteller, here crafting a concept album built around the ups and downs of one fictional couple. Physical editions of the album even come with a written preface to set the scene, much like Moffat’s 2008 narrative solo album I Can Hear Your Heart. While some of his typical miserablism still abounds, tales like ‘Mz. Locum’s “bombshell in leggings”/“goddess in jeggings”, who “Signs my prescriptions to treat my addictions/With x’s and o’s and much more” are delivered with a sense of joyous humour rather than his once trademark mumble. Elsewhere on the album, Moffat finds himself expounding on subjects as wide ranging as the Multiverse theory (‘Quantum Theory Love Song’) and maternal abandonment.
Underneath the often deadpan Moffat, Hubbert’s flamenco guitar provides the album’s greatest emotional pull. Anyone who’s seen Hubbert live will know that, much like Warren Ellis from Dirty Three, he’s able to describe at length what each song is about even if it’s entirely instrumental; such is the expression he’s able to pour into his playing. Beyond the album’s two central players, Siobhan Wilson’s vocal contributions provide a neat counterpoint, most notably on the opening ‘Cockrow’, while members of Rachel’s and Arab Strap’s touring band also appear. The record’s production itself, though begins to steal the show towards the latter half. ‘Keening for a Dead Love’, which repurposes the album’s title again as a metaphor for the death of a relationship (“Here lies the body, the body of us”) features a moaning vocal sample throughout that resembles some sort of disturbing death cry, while ‘Party On’ utilises addictive samba percussion and the Blackpool-set ‘Zoltar Speaks’ is played wonderfully against the invasive sounds of blaring arcade machines and chattering seagulls.
Moffat feels like something of an elder statesmen on the Scottish indie scene these days, cited as an inspiration by younger artists who bear his hallmarks, be it the thickly accented delivery of The Twilight Sad’s James Graham or the intimately confessional lyrics of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison (whose tragic passing coincided uncomfortably with this album’s release). But his own career shows no signs of abating as he moves effortlessly from project to project, tapping into yet more colourful tales of ordinary romance. The low key narrative folk of Here Lies the Body is a high point for Hubbert so far, and yet another gem to add to Moffat’s unrivalled discography. Cathal McBride