'Sovereign Self' is the fourth album by Glaswegian seven-piece Trembling Bells, and it represents a very particular sort of musical revival. The sounds of the '60s permeate the band and record, with production, instrumentation and practise all pointing to a murkier, driftier time for the term "folk". The album is populated by electric organs, guitars, strings and percussion that co-align to evoke the deep, the dark, the pastoral and the post-conscious, while Lavinia Blackwall’s operatic vocals guide the listener through the album’s resulting river. Album opener ‘Tween the Womb and the Tomb’ stands as a perfect example, with sheaves and shimmers of reverbed strings and bells swimming alongside before descending into a glorious, indulgent electric-organic hell.
Sometimes the river can get a little too murky, though – each constituent part of the album’s heavier moments is so packed with information and intrigue that the overall piece suffers a little. ‘Sweet Death of Polka’ pulls you in to a world of interlaced instruments and effects which builds and builds until you get lost; ‘Bells of Burford’’s 5/4 organ riff, while inspired, tugs at your shirtsleeves impatiently while you’re trying to follow Blackwall’s sonorous melody. While 'Sovereign Self' is on the whole a noisy, chaotic affair, the listener truly revels in most of it. ‘O Where Is St George’ sees the tenets of folk warming up in clatter-sound before a refreshingly raw choir of band vocals and warm, clean electric guitar, while ‘Bells of Burford’’s pace and tone is refreshing and contagious.
There are hints and shapes of quiet inbetween the all-out noise, found in Fleet Foxes guitar tones and undertoned lushness by way of the well-constructed backline. The album’s true quiet moment comes with ‘The Singing Blood’, an honest-to-goodness ballad peppered with bluesy twang and Dylan-esque vocals, that reminds of a calmer Comets On Fire.
'Sovereign Self' ends on a high with ‘Is Someone Else’, a speedy, hefty sibling of ‘Bells of Burford’ which once again sees Blackwall’s vocals pull taught the underlying chaos of guitar growls and organ drones. Even in the decidedly '60s sound they pursue, modern referents and influences are there to be found; Trembling Bells resemble Anna Calvi at times in their tone, embodying a grandiose flourish of complete catharsis. Their forays into full-on folk-rock are predicated on feeling, and enacted with it to boot. 'Sovereign Self' is a meal, to be sure: tiring at a point, but second winds are not far off, and reaching the end is deeply satisfying.
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