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Bill Wells - Paper of Pins

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Artist: Bill Wells

Album: Paper of Pins

Label: Karaoke Kalk

Review date: Nov. 23, 2009

Bills Wells makes music with the same aesthetic that Michel Gondry affixes his movies: technologically post-millennium with nostalgia for all things makeshift. Though grounded in acoustic melodies, Wells fastens the compositions together with digital ties and strings. The tone is quirky, romantic, sentimental and bittersweet. The melodies, teased by leanings of post-jazz dissonance, are almost childlike in their simplicity, but often lead to more introspective and perplexing emotions. And like the Gondry films, it’s art for colorful daydreaming from a bench set in the dingy park of reality.

An instrumental piece of Glasgow’s elegant pop puzzle (as the arranger for those lush indie rock compositions performed by Belle & Sebastian, The Pastels, Arab Strap, etc.), Wells can shape his charming melodies into any number of modes. As a group leader though, he prefers an electro-acoustic environment. Paper of Pins is no exception. And his quartet remains constant with the last few years of his music making: ambidextrous trombonist Annie Whitehead (Robert Wyatt, Evan Parker, Paul Weller, and many more), digital manipulator Stefan Schneider (Mapstation, Kreidler, To Rococo Rot), and singer/songwriter Barbara Morgenstern.

As with Well’s previous few releases, the main melody-maker is Whitehead’s swooning trombone. Shaped around Wells’ and Morgenstern’s compositions, the music’s personality bends with the tone of Whitehead. If the trombone is somber and melancholy – as it typically is – the whole band follows suit: soft piano vamps, gentle harpsichord plucks and minute electronic tinges. Same goes for the more chaotic “Tributaries” (everyone spazzes out in turn) or the clunky “Produce of More Than One Country” (a marriage of patchy percussive and electronic rhythms).

The band is at their best during “Loitering with Intent.” Composed with a simple lapping groove of a brittle acoustic guitar melody, a blipping digital rhythm, and snowballing arcs from keyboard, trombone and string, it exemplifies the laptop-age of chamber pop. And perhaps most importantly, it plucks at those emotional chords, causing an escape from the daily drab, however briefly. It may verge on the sentimental, but the warm homeliness feels quite appropriate with the winter months on the horizon.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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