Six albums and a decade in, Trembling Bells are still imbued with a strong sense of mischief and ambition. Dungeness may be the biggest rebuttal to the perceived conservatism of what they do – they are an anachronism but in the most sincere way and completely avoiding pastiche. Ultimately, what has contributed to their longevity is great, great songwriting, and some of their very best songwriting is on Dungeness. They’ve broadened their musical palette here too, and makes lazy (if sometimes accurate) comparisons to the likes of Fairport Convention seem redundant. Those spectres are still in the room – most notably on the excellent ‘Christ’s Entry Into Govan’ – but there is a much more expansive, freak-folk mood over the whole record. Highlight ‘Death Knocked At My Door’ starts off sounding like a wonky Hawkwind; before collapsing beautifully into a cacophony of percussion, Laviana Blackwell’s beautiful, other worldly voice anchoring the listener through the chaos. ‘The Devil In Dungeness’ sounds like it’s been cribbed from a long lost Turkish psych compilation, its initial relentlessness boring its way into the listener’s brain, before the beautiful, ethereal coda releases the tension.
Lyrically, it’s a William Hogarth painting of a record – death, sex, drunkenness, religion, and redemption all make an appearance – and it’s a lyrically fascinating record which uses tender, carnal, and surreal imagery in equal measure. There’s much degradation and self-flagellation here; our protagonists are drunk, lustful, disorientated, remorseful; on ‘This Is How The World Will End’ Nielson is “drunk at the wheel of a runaway machine” unable to make sense of his own feeling or thought processes. On the rather wonderful ‘My Father Was A Collapsing Star’ he’s scratching his way “out of the womb door” to “the sound of canned laughter” and “trembling in the half light” – this sort of carnal, absurd imagery colours the record from start to finish. ‘I’m Coming’ is rolling around in the gutter, mixing vivid allusions to fairly debauched sexual activity, death and Medieval, Pagan mysticism.
‘Rebecca Dressed As A Waterfall’, the final song, does offer us some pathos; it’s the only song on the record you could say was ‘pretty’ – though not without its shades of madness – and is a welcome moment of plaintiveness after the preceding nine chaotic, debauched songs. It’s a startling moment of beauty that, like a great deal of Dungeness, starts in the womb chamber; its directness and sparseness is arresting in the context of the record. Blackwell’s voice is allowed to soar here – to hair-raising effect.
Dungeness is a beautiful ambition record that calls on a whole beautifully broad spectrum of musical vocabulary to create something coherent, engrossing and consistently brilliant. Though it’s hard to say whether it’s Trembling Bells’ best record, it’s certainly their most ambitious and bodes very well for their second decade of releases
Dungeness is released on 30th March through Tin Angel records.