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Whilst continually being lumped into the post-Electric Eden milieu of modern acid-folkers, clattering Glawgegian folk rock troupe Trembling Bells have always held a more idiosyncratic line. Less of the vaguely hauntological aesthetics, the brainy synthesis of '70s B-music (pastoral prog, whimsy folkadelia in the main) that characterises much folk-influenced music of Britain today; though the band might occasionally reference such alternative histories, their style is much more sincere, more straightforward, and more concerned with reinvigorating the power of the song. With a deep commitment to melody informed by an obsessional immersion in the rousing tonalities of trad folk, Early Music, '60s pop and '50s crooners, drummer and bandleader Alex Neilson's compositions at their best can achieve a gut-punching emotional heft; chest-beating paeans to love and loss of love stained in red wine and squidgy black.

The Sovereign Self, Trembling Bells' fifth album, finds them at something of a creative crossroads. With an extra guitarist and an increased focus on riffs n' grooves, they sound more conventionally progadelic than they've ever done before. It's out with the tear-jerking Salvation Army brass, in with the silicon fuzz pedals. On the whole the songs are less immediate, the melodies less robust and the structures more diffuse than on previous albums. Yet it seems to me that this might not be such a bad thing, especially since this shift seems largely intentional. Take the album opener, 'Tween The Womb And The Tomb', for example. A disorienting dirge of interlocking guitar themes and discordant organ with singer Lavinia Blackwell's impressive improvisations laced throughout, its themes of existential confusion are perfectly suited to the accompaniment, heralding an album of diminished certainty and increased emotional fractiousness. Likewise the Beefheartian freakbeat of 'Killing Time In London Fields' and the hectic 5/4 acid rock of 'Bells of Burford' contribute to the album's sense of psychological disquiet, an unsettling postscript to the boozy, triumphant emotiveness seen on previous records.

Though this isn't to say Trembling Bells have abandoned stirring melodicism altogether. There are plenty of moments on this album which prove that the group can still tug heartstrings as well as they can bend minds. 'O, Where Is St George', their retelling of Padstow's May Day song, finds the band pitched somewhere between tectonic tantricists Vibracathedral Orchestra and cult folk rockers Trees, ushered in with a swathe of naive noodling on bells, violin and crystal-clear modal guitar. And it's a chest-beater alright. Led by Neilson's wavy warble, vocal harmonies creep in on each chorus achieving a gloriously cathartic crescendo, whilst the lyrics weave personal crisis and collective folksong into a psychogeographical mesh. 'Sweet Death Polka', meanwhile, finds Trembling Bells sounding beautifully bruised; a heartbroken survey of romance and regret that dissipates into a psychedelic meltdown, riffing on the medieval banger 'Saltarello' as it bows graciously out. Later 'The Singing Blood' recasts the band as The Band brought up on a diet of Dylan Thomas rather than roots Americana, and '(Perched Like A Drunk On A) Misirichord' puts the rock in Baroque, with the theme's harmonised guitar leads coming off like Thin Lizzy having a crack at a madrigal.

Thus whilst on The Sovereign Self Trembling Bells have taken on a heavier sound with nods to psychedelic and progressive rock, they've retained enough of their identity and idiosyncrasies for this to remain and engrossing work. Whilst sounding altogether more psychologically and sonically cluttered, the challenges this album presents are as invigorating as its rewards - poetic beauty can still be found amidst the lysergic confusion.

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