|The Sovereign Self|
Trembling Bells — The Sovereign Self (29 June 2015)Ξ Free–floating psychedelic folk meets post rock collective project headed by Scottish drummer Alex Neilson.
Ξ Trembling Bells are Alex Neilson's song–based group who seek to reanimate the psychic landscapes of Great Britain and relocate them to some vague, mythic land where basic human crises are encountered and conquered.Formed: 2008 in Glasgow, Scotland
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Album release: 29 June 2015
Record Label: Tin Angel
01 'Tween the Womb and the Tomb 8:07
02 O, Where Is Saint George? 5:48
03 Killing Time in London Fields 5:53
04 Sweet Death Polka 6:01
05 Bells of Burford 7:23
06 The Singing Blood 5:02
07 (Perched Like a Drunk on A) Miserichord 4:05
08 I Is Someone Else 6:08Description:
Ξ The Sovereign Self — named after a line from Dennis Potter, the late television auteur — is the fifth album by Trembling Bells, their first since 2012’s The Marble Downs, a collaboration with Will Oldham. It is a driving, dramatic and at times hallucinatory work, filled with a great sense of tension and release; a witches’ brew, a psychedelic stew mixing up the range of the band’s musical interests — everything from ramshackled ballads to ancient May Day chants, swaggering acid rock to swirling prog epics.
Ξ “Some songs are a little challenging” says lead vocalist Lavinia Blackwall, “Bringing Alasdair C Mitchell into the band means we have the interplay of two guitar parts. Musically, this album has been a lot more collaborative and democratic and as a result a lot of our other influences have come through — psychedelia, early–70s prog and rock. It’s heavier and darker. I find it physically and emotionally draining to sing these songs, because they are quite intense you have to put so much into them.”Ξ As always, there is a strong sense of place in songs: Glasgow, Padstow; East London, the Great Western Road; the A61 and A82 — you could plot the songs of Trembling Bells on a chart; you could drive around in them. They are a band poised between mappa mundi and SatNav.
Ξ “I have an irresistibly romantic attraction to places. I want to glorify them and give an impression of the feeling that they evoke in me,” says Neilson. “I’m interested in the way that Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman engaged with their native land. They sang of the soil itself. I was always interested in the way that blues and country did the same for places in America, but it didn’t seem like there was an equivalent in Britain. Carbeth, Yorkshire, Sussex and Cornwall have a strong allure for me, so this is a way to eulogise and elevate these places that have a very personal significance for me into the realm of myth and mystery.”REVIEW
By Chris White | Posted on 28 Jun 2015 | Score: ****
Ξ Back in the late 1960s, there was nothing that unusual about psychedelic folk rock bands churning out nine–minute epics about long–dead lovers and mythical heroes. The likes of Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band achieved Top 5 albums and headlined festivals, sitting comfortably alongside other pioneering acts as part of a post–Summer of Love mainstream music scene that was embracing experimentation like never before.
Ξ Glasgow’s Trembling Bells would almost certainly have thrived in that era and it is rather a shame that in today’s less radical climate they are almost certainly destined to remain niche curiosities. The Sovereign Self, their fifth album since forming in 2008, is a confident, richly textured record that will offer much to enjoy for those willing to seek it out.
Ξ First track ‘Tween The Womb And The Tomb tells you all you need to know about Trembling Bells. Clocking in at a shade over eight minutes, it begins with singer Lavinia Blackwell’s soaring, passionate vocal — somewhere between Sandy Denny and Siouxsie Sioux — which is soon joined by a jagged, raga like guitar motif. Around the half way mark, we get a sudden, unexpected flurry of King Crimson–like organ cascades before the tempo shifts again towards more conventional folk balladry. It’s a heady brew, but pulled off with panache and fine musicianship.
Ξ The following seven tracks are no less compelling. O’ Where is St George sees band founder Alex Neilson and Blackwell alternating then harmonising their vocals, chanting lyrics that teeter precariously between genius and madness, for example imagining a time — “where Lou Reed and Lauren Bacall/defeated Asterix the Gaul.” These eclectic references are perhaps unsurprising when you consider the album’s title is taken from a Dennis Potter TV play and its cover includes a series of paintings by Blackwell depicting everyone from the aforementioned Reed to the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson and ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus. Coldplay they certainly ain’t.Ξ Back to the music, and while The Singing Blood and Sweet Death Polka are lovely but (by Trembling Bells standards) relatively vanilla (a mad wig out at the end on the latter notwithstanding), Bells Of Burford is something else entirely — a monolithic slab of progressive rock boasting guitar and keyboard pyrotechnics that would even make Yes pause for thought.
Ξ Over these seven minutes of controlled mayhem, Trembling Bells arguably travel further beyond their starting point in traditional folk music than any act in the genre has ever done before. It is a startling piece of work from a group who seem willing to try anything. It’s almost a surprise that we don’t see hip hop or dubstep worked in somewhere. Album closer I Is Someone Else is almost as stellar, with Blackwell’s strident voice propelling The Sovereign Self towards a conclusion of duelling electric guitar solos that once again is about as far removed from real ale and knitted sweater stereotypes as it’s possible to get. The addition of second guitarist Alasdair C Mitchell has added extra muscularity to the already potent riffs and rhythms of the group’s previous records, and the sound created is frequently extraordinary.
Ξ Sprawling, strange, baffling and beguiling, this psychedelic treasure is unlikely to appeal to the unadventurous, but it’s hard to imagine there will be another album released anywhere this year that’s quite like it. Ξ http://www.musicomh.com/Artist Biography by Heather Phares
Ξ Carbeth Glasgow's eclectic Trembling Bells were founded in early 2008 by drummer Alex Neilson, an improviser who has played with Jandek, Bonnie Prince Billy, and Current 93, among others. Neilson formed the group in order to explore more structured, song–based music, and recruited vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Lavinia Blackwall (who worked with Neilson in the group Directing Hand), bassist/vocalist Simon Shaw (also of Lucky Luke), and guitarist/harmonica player Ben Reynolds (who played with Neilson in Motor Ghost and is also a solo artist). This version of the group released its debut album, Carbeth, in April 2009 on Honest Jon's Records; Blackwall's clear soprano and the group’s acoustic leanings drew acclaim and comparisons to Pentangle, Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, and other British folk luminaries of the '60s and '70s — so much so that the band participated in an Incredible String Band tribute concert at London’s Barbican a couple of months after Carbeth's release. Trembling Bells' live show is just as eclectic as their albums, with brass and accordion players, a dance troupe, and films all playing a part in their concerts. For their second album, 2010's Abandoned Love, they added guitarist/vocalist Mike Hastings to the fold and incorporated medieval, country, and classic rock influences into their sound. They remained prolific and stylistically restless in 2011, releasing the more psychedelic The Constant Pageant and Marble Downs, a set of duets between Blackwall and Will Oldham that arrived in April 2012. Following a 2013 side project called the Crying Lion that saw both Neilson and Blackwall collaborating with the a cappella group Muldoon's Picnic on a set of choral tunes, Trembling Bells returned with their fifth album, 2015's The Sovereign Self.
Bryan Brussee , June 23rd, 2015 14:11
|The Sovereign Self|