When Trembling Bells’ Alex Neilson makes music, he thinks of it in less certifiable terms than structure, key or tempo. On ‘Big Nothing’, the opening track to Trembling Bells’ seventh album Dungeness, he wanted the chords “to sound gigantic and degraded, like a building collapsing in slow motion. Or a rusted structure in the middle of the sea”. And remarkably it does.
With its open-hearted sound and jarring self-deception ‘Big Nothing’ sets up many of the key themes on Dungeness. Named after a headland on the south coast of England, which Alex visited for the first time in 2015 along with other band members – bassist Simon Shaw, guitarists Alasdair C Mitchell and Mike Hastings, and vocalist/ organist Lavinia Blackwall – the place had a polarising affect. “They hated it for the same reasons that I was thrilled by it” says Alex.
“We drove for a long time along the East Sussex coast road to get there. All the while the landscape seemed to be getting more parched and flat. It felt like if you looked out of the van window then the land wouldn’t actually be there anymore. Just a Void. When we arrived at Dungeness it felt like the end of the earth”.
Many of the tracks on Dungeness feel like the end of the earth too, their folk rock sensibility acquiring a sweeping, apocalyptic grandness – both in sound and lyrics. Though it hearkens back to the ‘70s psychedelic heyday of Fairport Convention and Trees, it’s also, as comedian Stewart Lee puts it in his sleeve notes, “heroically now”. Indeed, it’s hard not to hear the lyrics of album highlight ‘I’m Coming’ – when Lavinia sings, “There’s a price to be paid for these abuses of power” – without connecting it to what’s happening in the world right now.
Tin Angel Records