As much as what I have read will have me believe, Trembling Bell’s debut seems nothing like the new-weird America(na) it supposedly fits right alongside of. Maybe, partly, because Trembling Bells is British. But there is something much more insular about the folk outfit than any sort of helpful PR ‘review if you like…’ wants to tell me.
Bells is the sum of its very unique parts—a medieval music scholar, a bluesman, a trombonist, a viola player, etc. ‘Carbeth’ is thus an album that teeters between revival folk-psychedelia, traditional music, British folk from way before I was born, and a few other things. At times, like on the wonderfully titled ‘I Took To You (Like Christ To Wood)’, Trembling Bells produce a winning, soaring mix of trombone, buzzy guitar, organ, drums, yelping male vocals and medieval-styled female vocals. Yet, at other times the blend makes the album muddled and challenging—almost discordant. There is a certain amount of bleed-through when you are making music that embraces the free spirit of folk with talented musicians who obviously know how to compose their stuff and want to pack their breadth of talent and disparate background experience in. And perhaps that’s the other reason I’d like to say that I refuse to lump Trembling Bells in with any other folk outfit, they are carving a totally different path (at least to my ears)—and though there are tinges of Fairport Convention as much as there are tinges of of-late plugged-in folk, the Bells are something almost startlingly (and unfortunately for me, at least, challengingly) distinct.
It is an interesting experiment, and I do not want to sully how enjoyable ‘Carbeth’ is—but I cannot help (hopefully due to some sort of ignorance or unrefined taste) allow the release to hook into me in a supremely enjoyable way. Maybe it is because I’ve always ignored British music with organs (we shall not get into that), or lots of other British folk music (which many can rightfully berate me for if they’d like).
Blame on it being hopelessly American, but I’m gonna half to pull the ol’ ‘respect but respectfully disagree with’ trick before your eyes. Age and separation from the surely important source material Trembling Bells cites from put me at a reviewing disadvantage. And, if reviewers are supposed to be impartial, I have never been informed and apologize for the inability to perform the impossible
What I can say is that Trembling Bells are extraordinarily talented, and will greatly reward those with affinity for folk of any stripe. Moreover it is album that, after only two listens (the first I very much disagreed with), has grown me. I’m sure in under a year I’ll be totally redacting this review. We’ll see. 6/10 -- John Ganiard (22 July, 2009)