When the opening track of an album takes you on a gentle stroll through a hazy bucolic landscape populated by campfire harmonica, drifting almost Enya-esque vocals (from Emma Churchley), haunting electronica beeps, folk violin and the sort of piano and groove that you might have expected on the more lounge lizard side of the trip-hop coin then you know that you are in for an absolute treat….and you are most certainly not wrong my friend!
Hailing from Berkshire the architects behind this beguiling debut are Richard Bentley, Roy Goss and Alan Gubby – also known as Revbjelde. They have created a unique slice of pastoral folk electronic experimentalism which fits perfectly with the current vogue for retro hauntology and folk horror soundtracks whist still producing something that sounds fresh and current. You need only listen to their version of Paul Giovanni’s `Lullaby’ from The Wicker Man soundtrack (released on Buried Treasure in 2013) to see that they have been working with this vision for some time – and boy is it paying off.
Mixing some wonderfully off kilter jazz influenced freakiness- in the vein of the Third Ear Band – over a driving acoustic guitar chug with some electrickery that wouldn’t sound out of place on a blissed out Dub track they follow the woozy introduction of `The Weeping Tree’ with short but delightfully weird ` Port of Arundel’. For all its charm there is an equal measures of darkness and this is a balance that recurs throughout the album which manages to maintain a sense of uplifting beauty to it whilst providing plenty of shadows to menace in the background.
Straight of the back of` Port of Arundel’ is `Buccaboo’ which is a track almost impossible to describe without the use of very long sentences so here we go….
Here we enter a dream world of didgeridoos and zithers the combination of which conjures up some pretty primeval vibes before some gorgeous Cooder slide guitar drags you out into the baking sunlight where shuffling brush work paves the way for some up lifting floating jazz as if Miles has just joined in the jam. It is all very `hip’ but without sounding at all contrived or forced – this is the sound of three people who instinctively know how to combine sounds and styles
Next it is the turn of `Lankin Jig’ which sounds like it should be a hay nonney nonney jaunt but by now you should realise that what you expect and what Revbjelde deliver are wildly different – and all the better for it. Ennio Morricone meets KT Tunstall in this foot tapper with all kinds of other splashes of sound and styles once again blurring the genre edges and making it pretty much impossible for the reviewer to convey to the reader quite how vibrant and original all this sounds…curse those Revbjelde guys!!
A personal favorite is `Cloister’ which introduces itself with a charming Dead Can Dance nod of the head on the hammered dulcimer accompanied by a slowly building cinematic swell which ebbs back gently before the next swell – which as before never quite manages to break. The instrumentation is inspired and wonderfully understated. This is mesmerizing stuff and a wonderful way to allow the listener to catch their breath from the myriad of sounds and styles so far before they move on `Out of the Unknown’
Hang on a minute…….what’s this?? Brass, shuffling rhythms, and the sort of keyboard and bass work that immediately embeds this track in the 80’s – possibly for use during a night time montage sequence in some New York based drama that ends with the main character taking refuge from the rain by diving into some dark basement jazz joint…. only `Out of the Unknown’ is way too cool for that. It’s like when the already cool Donald Byrd joined the already cool Guru on the first Jazzmatazz album…..it’s that sort of cool!
For `Reading Abbey’ the collective are joined by poet/story teller extraordinaire Dolly Dolly who I first became aware of from the Resonance FM’s `Weird Tales for winter’ series 6 years ago. The delivery of the spoken word on this piece starts off not that dissimilar to the softly spoken Ivor Cutler (but without the Scottish accent) but soon it takes on a strange electronic echo that reminds one of late 70’s Doctor Who and directs the piece into much creepier territory . Accompanied by some minimal radiophonic workshop madness the words take on a powerful almost magical tone and although I still don’t know what Dolly Dolly is going on about that really doesn’t matter….`God was here among them’
`Tidworth Drum’ exists in slightly more familiar territory and wouldn’t sound out of place in the company of Banco De Gaia and Timeshard on one of the marvelous Planet Dog compilation albums. Tribal and rhythmic this is the Revbjelde track that will get you dancing and is a prime candidate for a remix – those Megatripolis kids would have loved it.
`Carry My Woes’ is a track that although very short those Megatripolis kids most certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed at all……a post-apocalyptic sci-fi collage with a voice that although seemingly singing to the listener also seems to be taunting them until it is silenced by a single satisfying slab of Sunn O))) guitar. It is the sort of track that would have any buzzed up happy weekender checking over their shoulder for the approaching paranoia…
The final four tracks come together as a hymn to the old ways and to Blake’s arcadia and perfectly represent the diversity and strangeness of Revbjelde which still manages to maintain a comforting familiarity. Separately they are `Agrona Wuhhung’, `Faran Ofost’, `Manian Plegende’ and `Brigantia Lufian’ but together they become `For Albion’. The titles, like the music they represent, are hybrids taken from a mixture of old Brythonic words that further suggests a revisiting of the old ways – but altered, perverted and polluted by our modern intrusions.
There are some moments of sublime Arcadian bliss as ethereal female vocals weave their way around acoustic folk refrains and the sort of jazz/folk bass lines that wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from Robert Kirby. But don’t be fooled as there are also some sections of experimental sound collage that suggest some sort of industrial menace (the looming presence of `Dark satanic mills’ represented by found sounds and haunted tinkering music boxes). We are also treated to some lovely squelchy ambient techno sounds which seem to cut across the green verdant landscape with a woozy lineal precision. This track – `Faran Ofost’ – acts to link the ominous sermo- like beginning of `Agrona Wuhhung’ with the pure harvest hymns vibes of final act `Brigantia Lufian’ via a diversion into modern paranoid dread in the form of `Manian Plegende’. This track seems to serve to wake us from our poetic revelry and remind us how rudely modern life, with all its ugly trappings and darkness can interrupt and seek to infect our nostalgic visions and break up the unity of our shared past.
By the time the bucolic sedative of Brigantia Lufian has finished and our visit to the strange landscape of Revbjelde comes to an end we have been treated to a hugely diverse array of styles, instruments and influences. Haunting electronica, lounge lizard trip-hop and off kilter jazz. Didgeridoos, zithers, Bouzouki and Balalaika. Ennio Morricone , Third Ear Band, Banco De Gaia and Dead Can Dance. Sound collages, Arcadian folk, dub vibes and sun baked slide guitar…..
It has been a strange old trip but not once has it sounded contrived or complicated. This is an album that stands as testament to the passion for and understanding of music…..all kinds of music. The vision of Richard, Roy and Alan is a full spectrum of creativity and they should be immensely proud of what they have achieved here on a near faultless piece of work. As long as the right people get to hear it then you can expect to see ` Revbjelde ‘featuring heavily in quite a lot of `Album of the Year’ charts.
Revbjelde is out now on Buried Treasure Records.