Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self
Intoxicating fifth album from the doyens of psychedelic wigouts
Last year, in a darkened tent in rural Stirlingshire, Trembling Bells debuted some of the heady psychedelic wigouts that now unfurl themselves across the band's fantastic fifth long-player, The Sovereign Self.
They were performing at Doune The Rabbit Hole, which provided a fitting locale for the Glasgow-based folk-rock diviners to charm us with their new (un)earthly delights, populated as the festival was with belly dancers, penny farthings, moonshine swiggers, barefoot psychics, face-painted kids, mongrels on strings, and moustachioed warlocks proffering mugs of dandelion wine.
Having had such a colourful introduction to Trembling Bells' new material, one might wonder – even fear – whether these sprawling acid-fried jams could retain their freewheeling, Arcadian wonder once they were confined to wax. But such reservations are swiftly assuaged within The Sovereign Self's opening bars, which usher in 'Tween The Womb And The Tomb', a primal blues-pop madrigal on a rollicking, epic scale.
The rest of the album follows suit, and becomes more intoxicating with each listen – from kaleidoscopic mantra 'O, Where Is Saint George' (which echoes Trembling Bells' sonic ally, Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band), to hallucinatory, organ-spiralling psych-dirge 'Bells Of Burford', whose prog-rock interludes are incendiary, and joyous.
Lavinia Blackwall is typically stunning – her soaring vocals equal parts Mediaeval serenade and folk-rock chanson – and the addition of second guitarist (and multi-instrumentalist), Alasdair C Mitchell gives further weight and complexity to the riffage spun out by Mike Hastings (guitar) and Simon Shaw (bass).
Variously invoking Sophocles, Ovid, Dennis Potter and The Velvet Underground, this LP is darker than previous albums, but no less enlightening. It sees principle songwriter Alex Neilson (percussion / vocals) explore the language and symbolism of Greek tragedy, and the human heart in its broken state, alongside enduring touchstones like poetry, art, our sense of place. The Sovereign Self helps us to find and to lose ourselves: no one helms timeless, rapturous trips quite like Trembling Bells.
Trembling Bells play Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival, Sun 23 Aug