Trembling Bells and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Marble Downs

There’s folk, there’s rock, there’s psychedelia, there’s beauty, there’s noise, there’s sex, there’s gloom, there’s humour, there’s fun. It’s often over-the-top but sometimes perfectly restrained. It’s totally, gloriously, fucking nuts. And I nearly missed it.

 

It’s a common myth that, now we can listen to at least bits of pretty much everything as and when, we’ll all try things out and unerringly find new stuff we like. Not necessarily true, and it goes beyond the usual reminiscence that when you’d had to save up to buy a scarce album you had to make an effort to appreciate it. Having heard enthusiasm about Trembling Bells, I’m pretty sure I checked out a couple of songs and mentally filed them under “Nah”. No idea what I listened to, whether I actually did, what mood I was in etc, but no matter, I was reinforced in my indifference by the idea I’d actually heard them – however inadequately.
Very inadequately it turns out. No time or effort is needed to fall in love with this record. It reaches out and grabs you from the opening - mediaeval warble, mariachi horns and classic rock guitar (and that’s one of the low-key tracks…) - and throws you around and about with its (considerable) whims. It helps to have come at it with the expectation of listening to a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy record. Although employed mainly as a singer rather than a writer, this is everything Will Oldham’s been doing in recent years gloriously played out with an over-stuffed ebullience. Alex Neilsen has clearly written with Oldham in mind and, though his lyrical style is different to Oldham’s it’s just as off-kilter and filled with oddly humorous earthiness. And when Oldham’s querulous tones play off against Lavinia Blackwall’s bell-clear voice it’s done with an unashamed theatricality and a total disregard for any idea that they ought to be bounded by normal notions of sense or going too far. 
It’d be daft to even attempt an exhaustive list of what’s gone musically into this enormous bubbling cauldron of ideas. Just when you’re getting used to a base of traditional/folk-rock within the madness, a song like Ain’t Nothing Wrong With A Little Longing slices in on garage organs and fuzz guitar before buggering off somewhere completely different. And then the whole thing immediately slows down into what could almost be a lost Simon and Garfunkel classic (which it turns out is a musical setting of a Dorothy Parker poem – Excursions Into Assonance). In amongst all this it makes perfect sense to do a portentous, apocalyptic version of Oldham’s own Riding, punctuated by an insistent repeating peal of guitar sound. And to top the whole lot off with a cover from a Robin Gibb solo album. Of course it does.
There’s folk, there’s rock, there’s psychedelia, there’s beauty, there’s noise, there’s sex, there’s gloom, there’s humour, there’s fun. It’s often over-the-top but sometimes perfectly restrained. It’s totally, gloriously, fucking nuts. And I nearly missed it.

 

This paean to the lunacy of man ("and woman!") was brought to you in association with www.soundsxp.com