Trembling Bells: Dungeness (Tin Angel Records) ****
Broken Records: What We Might Know (J Sharp Records) ****
Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (Southern Domestic) ****
Candythief: Imaginary Medals (Lexicon) ****
Don’t fear the capes or the crushed velvet – Glasgow’s Trembling Bells are one of the most joyous, singular bands in Scotland, who pay absolutely no heed to what is current or fashionable and are all the more appealing for it.
They draw instead on the twin exotic worlds of psychedelic rock and the folk music traditions of the British Isles, like a more gleeful incarnation of 60s trailblazers Fairport Convention and Pentangle. It’s no surprise that they have found kindred spirits in the equally eccentric alt.folk troubadour Will Oldham, aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band, with whom they have toured extensively.
Their five minute-plus odysseys are helmed by two gifted vocalists – the luminous Lavinia Blackwall, classically trained and capable of stratospheric swoops, and drumming bandleader Alex Neilson, sounding wise beyond his years as he leads on My Father Was A Collapsing Star, a very Trembling Bells title and tale.
Latest album Dungeness is named after the desolate headland in Kent, described by Neilson as “the end of the earth”, and concerned, rather blithely it must be said, with themes of death and destruction. Early Black Sabbath, a suitable reference point for their apocalyptic visions, loom large over the acid riffola, soaring guitars, and angelic and demonic choruses of Knockin’ On The Coffin but they also inject a garage punk edge on the hectic Death Knocked At My Door, indulge in post-rock wailing wigout This Is How The World Will End and surrender to the eastern promise and heady melodrama of Devil in Dungeness.
Trembling Bells are bold, witty and unapologetic – and where else can you go for a hookline like “and the bells go ding-dong as Christ enters Govan”?
Equally bold in their own way are underrated Edinburgh ensemble Broken Records, who have never sounded better than on this freewheeling fourth album. The aim was to write a collection to be enjoyed on the open road, and they waste no time hitting the accelerator with They Won’t Ever Leave Us Alone and Let The Right One In, two pumping, propulsive, rootsy pop/rock numbers suffused with the spirit of Springsteen and The E Street Band. Elsewhere on What We Might Know, thanks to frontman Jamie Sutherland’s sturdy, soulful vocals, they sound like a full throttle Keane or The Killers, but are just as strong on the occasional slower number such as soaring rock torch song So Free.
The “much loved and often underestimated” punk bard Wreckless Eric is also on confident form, opening his latest album with Gateway to Europe, an expansive soul number with gospel backing vocals, transcendent brass section and his idiosyncratic musings on the building of the Humber Bridge (“connecting nowhere in particular with where no one wants to go”). In keeping with the album’s titular theme, he builds himself up to knock himself down with knowing self-deprecation on Wow & Flutter, a low-slung fuzz rock conversation with a fan/stalker, featuring the internal rhyme, “here comes the bit that’s going to stop this becoming a hit”. He may be cult but he’s also a hero.
In a strong week for releases, Candythief, aka Edinburgh-based indie folk musician Diana De Cabarrus, holds her own with her third album, produced by John Wills of Pumajaw, who also draw on the quirky corners of folk music for their noir pop. Imaginary Medals is a lighter listen, featuring characterful interpretations of a couple of standards, St James Infirmary Blues and Rosemary Lane, plus outright pop instincts blended with off-kilter folk rhythms on The Starting Gun.
Organ Transcriptions (Audite) **
This compilation of organ transcriptions is a mixed bag. Part of that’s to do with the limited tonal variety of the Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Cathedral of Saint-Omer; other issues relate to music that doesn’t respond to organ transcription. What works? The delicacies of Prokofiev’s Vision fugitives Op22 are deliciously reinterpreted by organist Sophie Rétaux in her own wistful arrangements. She plays Reginald Goss-Custard’s well-worn transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Danse des mirlitons with gorgeous fluty charm. Rachmaninov’s famous Prelude in C sharp minor works a treat as a rousing and wholesome finale. Elsewhere, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No8 is more a vehicle to prove it can be played on the organ that anything musically satisfying. At one point the reed stops sound like rush hour at the Arc de Triomphe. Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherezade is more convincing, but still loses the depth of the orchestral original.
Ivo Neame: Moksha (Edition Records) ****
Following collaborations with the likes of Phronesis and Marius Neset, pianist Ivo Neame’s first album under his own name in six years reveals him embracing a variety of electronic keyboards as well as his relentlessly exploratory piano. These, including a digital version of the Mellotron, bring a certain luminescence to the already contrasting timbres provided by tenor saxophonist George Crowley, with drummer James Maddren and double-bassist Tom Farmer laying down some tricksy time signatures. The resulting group sound is evident right from the opening Vegetarians, with quavery electronic voicings slithering about a gutsy beat and earthy tenor sax. Similarly, Laika bubbles and bounces in and out of troughs of echoing stillness with its Fender Rhodes ripples and Crowley’s increasingly vocal sax. In contrast, lush piano chords and meditative sax open Outsider, while the sombre entrance of Blimp gives way to much animated interplay. n