Trembling Bells is the new-folk quartet assembled by drummer Alex Neilson from bandmates in previous projects, Directing Hand (Lavinia Blackwall) and Scatter (Ben Reynolds and Simon Shaw). Previous collaborations with Current 93, Red Krayola, Jandek, Will Oldham, and Six Organs of Admittance have colored his new musical direction, which explores the mythical landscapes of Yorkshire and Glasgow via a heady stew comprised of canonical rock, early music, and traditional folk – think Pentangle or Fairport Convention with keyboards, horns, and earth-rattling percussion. The band’s modus operandi
is rolled out on opener, “I Listed All Of The Velvet Lessons:” Blackwall’s piercing, angelic voice soars heavenward while bagpipes, keyboards and George Murray’s trombone weave wild webs of wonder.
“I Took To You (Like Christ To Wood)” is much more than, perhaps, the song title of the year – this cacophonous collection of cockeyed calliopes sounds like Charles Ives on acid or Neutral Milk Hotel on steroids. With brain teasing song titles like “The End Is The Beginning Born Knowing” and “Your Head Is The House Of Your Tongue,” Neilson & Co. can be a little too clever for their own good, and the former sounds like something Zappa burped up after a steady diet of Red Krayola, Captain Beefheart, and The Residents. This is not folk music for the feint of heart, but free form, folky freakouts intertwined with gorgeous ballads like “Summer’s Waning,” which is as heartbreaking and nostalgic as its title suggests.
The winsome title track (expanded to “Willows of Carbeth”) evokes echoes of Sharron Kraus and Mellow Candle’s Allison O’Donnell and is bolstered by Blackwell’s emotional, stratospheric vocal. The way she trawls across about three octaves in the same verse is a wonder to behold. Occasionally headscratchingly weird, there are enough passages of exquisite wide-eyed wonder to welcome them with open arms into the freak folk fold and we look forward to hearing what they come up with next. 7/10 -- Jeff Penczak (20 May, 2009)