Pros: A unique album that has a trance-inducing effect on its listener
Cons: Subject matter and presentation would be problematic for some; extremely limited replay value
As singer and songwriter of gloomy Scottish indie duo Arab Strap, Aidan Moffat quickly rose to notoriety due to his highly personal writing style. Most frequently Arab Strap songs seemed to focus on tales of drunken debauchery and infidelity, with Moffat's lyrics occasionally focusing on sometimes uncomfortably personal sexual material. Combining these vocals with the haunting and sad music provided by bandmate Malcolm Middleton, Arab Strap would rise to the forefront of "sadcore" groups who seemed to thrive off of their emotionally devastating themes, creating a harrowing body of work that, along with some quite distressing music, occasionally seemed to hint at the light at the end of the tunnel. It's not entirely surprising, considering the storytelling nature of his lyrics, that Moffat would try his hand at releasing an album of poetry in 2007, as his I Can Hear Your Heart distances Moffat from both Arab Strap's sound and his own solo work up to that point (usually released under the name of Lucky Pierre).
Credited under his full name, I Can Hear Your Heart continues in the trend of unflinchingly personal stories of sexual adventuring, drunken misadventure, and general frustration from Moffat, but the concept of the album is much simpler than anything we've heard from him prior. Instead of having a lavish musical backdrop, this album more often than not has looped audio elements providing basic atmosphere to Moffat's reading of his poetry. Moffat's storytelling, often recited in a matter-of-fact manner, was perhaps the true highlight of Arab Strap's music, and his talent in this area is demonstrated on this album. With very little to hook the audience other than the choice of language in the various pieces, this disc would likely prove interesting to those familiar with Moffat's work in Arab Strap, and while the album seems to be a successful experiment, I don’t think it would be essential listening to much of anyone.
The album starts off with an intro track in which Moffat asks the listener to read a short story provided with the album release. The written story is more of what we've come to expect from Moffat: a tale of relationship issues coming to the forefront while out drinking with some friends. This piece does set up some of the themes brought up on the disc, but I can't help but think that the "intro" track is somewhat of an awkward way to kick things off. Fear not, though, because before long, we're listening to raunchy, sometimes fairly explicit tales of sex and drinking that would surely offend listeners not used to Moffat's ribald language choices. In many ways, I Can Hear Your Heart is much more unrestrained than anything Arab Strap put out, but the graphic language and imagery on the disc seems appropriate on an album that one would expect to be honest and not be confined by popular convention.
For the most part, the tracks on this disc range about 90 seconds long, seeming to be brief poems that reflect on a wide array of mostly unfortunate scenarios. Moffat's word choice (delivered in his patented thick Scottish accent which might prove difficult for some listeners to get used to) is universally hard-hitting, cutting away superfluous language and unleashing vivid and gritty narratives that follow him through various relationships and situations. Along the way, the music backdrops change in tone or mood according to the pieces in question and it's somewhat interesting to note how the background music affects the listener's perception of the poems themselves. In some instances, an otherwise dreary poem seems more hopeful when combined with a more upbeat music accompaniment.
There are a couple tracks here that are more song oriented, with Moffat providing an accompaniment on the accordion while he roughs it through a tune, and the disc sometimes throws in interlude pieces (several are answering machine responses to Moffat having called a bathroom stall phone sex number) to break up the onslaught of poems. The finale on the disc is a ten minute story recitation entitled "Hilary and Back" that follows a drunk Moffat across town where he stumbles into a would-be birthday party and interacts with the various strangers there. It's an alternately humorous and somewhat disturbing story, chronicling the kind of night one pictures Moffat to have quite regularly considering what we've just listened to. The piece does however seem like an appropriately dark closing piece for an album whose main goal seems to be to recreate a spoken word performance by Moffat.
It's somewhat difficult to really provide a recommendation for this album; it's certainly rather unique and shows off Moffat's abilities as a wordsmith (in addition to being quite vivid and colorful in its language, most of the poems here also rhyme). On the other hand, I Can Hear Your Heart would have a rather limited audience to begin with due to its extreme content and language. Moffat’s thick accent and use of potentially unfamiliar colloquial jargon would also make it inaccessible to some, with the disc coming across at best as a curiosity piece for most any listener. It’s quite easy to get lost in the album due to its almost hypnotizing effect, but I don't know particularly if this record, with its extremely limited replay value, would really be worth picking up, even for those most interested in it. It's worth a listen, but is largely a pretentious, self-gratifying exercise and I probably wouldn't really go out of my way to track it down.