Trembling Bells (Feat. Bonnie Prince Billy)
The Marble Downs
, June 7th, 2012 13:18
This fourth record from the Glasgow-based Trembling Bells is a protean piece of work, slipping in and out of musical references like the Pied Piper slipping through the streets of Hamelin, leading us to a dramatic end. Luckily for us, this end is an aural feast, borrowing as it does from a colourful musical palette that takes in a wide spectrum of folk and 60s pop, with Alex Neilson, Lavinia Blackwell, Michael Hastings and Simon Shaw picking up lone hitchhiker Bonnie Prince Billy for the adventure.
Perhaps this provides some of the looseness that radiates from the record - 'I Made a Date (With an Open Vein)' sounds like the opening to a film about forbidden love in the fourteenth century, with Blackwell's hypnotic and elegant vocal wafting through a composition that becomes a psychedelic ancient jamboree (Blackwell studied medieval music). Oldham's voice strides purposefully in (I imagine him wearing breeches), singing of a "vengeful god" and death knocking at the door, yet the clamour of voices that soar behind him make the menace sound almost jaunty.
In fact, it is as if the collaboration has melted away some of Oldham's weariness, evident on the wonderful duet with Blackwell 'I Can Tell You're Leaving', where she sounds like a young Sandy Denny and he a happy Merle Haggard. There are regal-sounding horns prefacing 'Ferrari in a Demolition Derby' which makes like a baroque ballad in its formal, slow-moving loveliness. This is set off by marching percussion and suggests a schizophrenic aspect to the record, which can turn from elegant folk to scuzzy psychedelia in a heartbeat. That scuzz is to be found in the flea-ridden basement of 'Ain't Nothing Wrong With A Little Longing', with its wobbly organ, warm guitars and Oldham, learning about emotional delicacy, singing "I didn't know you could have honesty without cruelty." 'Everytime I Close My Eyes (We're Back There)' with its equally wobbly keys, evolves into an echoey cacophony of sound.
'Excursions Into Assonance' is perhaps one of the most affecting pieces on the record, perhaps because of its simplicity of instrumentation (possibly to accommodate Dorothy Parker's words), with the early lone piano framing Oldham's generous vocal. When Blackwell's voice creeps in later on it soars, high above the music like a sad, lonely dove.
The opening strings on 'Love is a Velvet Noose' brings us back to clear-eyed folk, with a song that takes in "riding out on Valentine's Day", drinking too much and broken dreams. This is followed by the haunting, spindly 'My Husband's Got No Courage'. Stripped of any instrumentation, it showcases the bewitching wildness of the two voices that crumble into the volcano of the Palace Brothers classic 'Riding', which is turned into freewheeling, heavy folk.
A slight left turn takes us to Robin Gibb's 1970 record 'Robin's Reign' and 'Lord Bless All' which at first is a clattering of meditative voices until the guitar chimes in alongside some electronic effects and it becomes a prayer of sorts, sent out into the sky. A fitting end to what is ultimately a prayer of a record, despair turned into poetry.