Album Review: The Sovereign Self by Trembling Bells
Great, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Glaswegian eclectics Trembling Bells offer up their freewheeling fifth LP, The Sovereign Self, an eight-song odyssey named after a line by revered British television writer Dennis Potter. That they cite influences like Potter, Greek tragedies, the painter El Greco, and socialist activist William Morris, reveals just how unlike any of their indie rock contemporaries they really are. In their six years together, they've never made any bones about their obscure historical leanings, but neither do they attempt to wholly re-create music of a certain era.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Whilst continually being lumped into the post-Electric Eden milieu of modern acid-folkers, clattering Glawgegian folk rock troupe Trembling Bells have always held a more idiosyncratic line. Less of the vaguely hauntological aesthetics, the brainy synthesis of '70s B-music (pastoral prog, whimsy folkadelia in the main) that characterises much folk-influenced music of Britain today; though the band might occasionally reference such alternative histories, their style is much more sincere, more straightforward, and more concerned with reinvigorating the power of the song.
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. 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.
Trembling Bells have changed direction once again – but now sound so frantic that they almost fail to do themselves justice. This Glasgow-based band started out as the quirky new heroes of the British psych-folk scene, influenced by the Incredible String Band, British folk songs and Americana. Then they switched to the rousing, melodic anthems of The Constant Pageant, an album dominated by the soaring, operatic vocals of Lavinia Blackwell.
With a title drawn from Dennis Potter, the fifth Trembling Bells album is a magnificent work from a band that effortlessly incorporates the medieval as much as the postmodern. A glorious collage of musical artistry, drawing from darker regions than did any of its predecessors, it’s a work of extraordinary ambition, integrating aspects of Classical Greek tragedy, unorthodox religious imagery and some of the more jagged, acid-tinged pastoralism of drummer-vocalist Alex Neilson’s late 1960s psych-folk heroes the Incredible String Band. Freighted with disparate ideas, the album convinces through its willingness to thrust forward without losing sight of a song’s considered structure, and also through insisting on a disciplined cohering of the elements.
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