(Tin Angel, out Fri 30 Mar 2018)
Glasgow’s Trembling Bells often feel like a one band psych-folk preservation society, as determined to keep the spirit of ’67-’69 alive for a new generation as their forebears were to tap into the ancient folk mysticism that went before them. Whether it’s Lavinia Blackwall channelling the spirit of Sandy Denny, or oddball moments redolent of the Incredible String Band (whose Mike Heron they’ve provided backing for), it’s all here, revised and freshened up for a new half century.
Pleasingly, they don’t take the task too seriously either. This, their sixth album, if you exclude collaborations, is full of joyously hippy-dippy song titles like Rebecca Dressed As A Waterfall, My Father Was A Collapsing Star, Knockin’ on the Coffin, and, best of all, the film-pitch-in-a-song-title that is Christ’s Entry Into Govan. It’s not quite as preposterous as other recent revivalists like Circulus, but it’s close.
The playful spirit extends to the lyrics too. When Blackwall sings “the bells go ding-dong” about Christ’s Entry Into Govan, it manages to be both ridiculous and beautiful. And on the album’s most String Band-esque moment, not only does Alex Neilson inform us his Father Was A Collapsing Star, but also that his “instinct was a basking shark” and his “ambition was a fatted worm inside a golden apple”. Smell the 60s.
All is not pure whimsy though. There’s a serious dosage of rock. Death Knocked At My Door employs a nasty, oscillating riff that recalls Holy Bible-era Manics. The Prophet is a menacing prog affair, with organ and guitar going hammer and tongs during the instrumental break, and Devil in Dungeness takes that sinister baton and runs with it. Blackwall is some vocalist too. Up and down the scales with power and purity. On the aforementioned The Prophet, she’s more Elkie Brooks in R’n’B mode than Sandy Denny in folk mode.
It’s also possible to glimpse something more profound amongst the psychadelic imagery. Christ’s Entry Into Govan again: “The whole human charade is a striptease down to the skeleton.” And This Is How The World Will End reminds us that, “Caesar wept when he found there were no more worlds to conquer. This is how the world will end – with disappointment for the victor,” before disappearing into the distance on a wave of plaintive guitar.
“I’m coming, Lord, I’m coming,” sings Blackwall, tapping into some sort of ecstasy on a song of the same name. It’s the most transcendent moment on an album that’s not short of inspiration from beyond. By rights, it should be a glorious closer, but there’s still the matter of Rebecca Dressed As A Waterfall, with its chirping birds, wandering penny whistle and stuttering guitar. It’s a little noodly to bow out on, but pleasant in its way.
Dungeness is a cheering and spirited album, drenched in history and mystery, for those who can see through, or are happy to wallow in the 60s fug.