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Bill Wells Lemondale Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Deserves to live on, and on, many years after its creation.

Martin Aston 2011

Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 film debut Diva was the dawn of a new age; art cinema’s version of MTV, a playful world of colour-saturated audio-visual entertainment. Except that, unlike MTV, Diva didn’t have to rely on Buggles and Pat Benetar for its supposed cool. And ineffably cool the film was, especially the character Alba (the muse of the bohemian father figure Gorodish), Asian by blood but Parisian by nature and exuding mystery and sensuality in equal measure. Exactly 30 years later, Lemondale resembles the missing soundtrack equivalent to Alba.

In 2006, the versatile virtuoso Scotsman behind the Bill Wells Octet and various collaborations – from The Pastels and Future Pilot A.K.A. to Aidan Moffat and Isobel Campbell – worked with Maher Shalal Hash Baz, aka Tori Kudo, whose fluid piano jazz styling has distinct European notes alongside his own idiosyncratic purity. Last year, Wells assembled 14 musicians for one day in Tokyo, including Kudo and Chicago post-rock maverick (and current Tokyo resident) Jim O’Rourke and Lemondale’s suitably bittersweet tang is the result.

With its exquisite accordion, the opening Toon City immediately sets a scene that’s as Parisian as a Left Bank café, though the classic bossa nova echoes of The Girl from Ipanema shows this is no simple Francophile reduction. And when vocalists Saya (of Tenniscoats) and Kazumi Nikaido enter the fray, it’s like the spirit of Alba, in her famous shiny rainmac, has come to life. Wells keeps the arrangements light but full of detail. Harvest Bag’s xylophone, oboe, brass and barely-there brushstrokes of guitar dance around one another as if in a ritual courtship. Invade the Pitch’s brass ensemble, led by fruity saxophones, echoes the Scando-jazzz impressionism of the ECM label. Piano Rolls’ sketch of piano notes overlaid with woodwind and vocal drones dissolves into scratchy free jazz, like a soundtrack in search of an indie short about a somnambulist wandering a beach in the depths of winter at twilight. Someone please write the script.

So it goes, through changing scenery; Hack’s 27 seconds of Germanic oom-pah leads into Effective Demand’s urgent Philip Glass-style minimalism seeping into Stereolab’s view of lounge musak before Mizu Tori’s fragile ballad (shades of Beth Gibbons here), Different Pans’ dreamy 14-musicians-at-once jam and the plaintive title-track finale (shades of Robert Wyatt here). All these musical comparisons mustn’t detract from Wells’ ability to create this mercurial, haunting soundscape – and, incredibly, in one day too. Like Diva, Lemondale deserves to live on, and on, many years after it was created.

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