This month’s Uncut covermount CD is a compilation of tracks spanning the 12 year history of Bella Union, the label founded by Cocteau Twins Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde. Raymonde himself compiled the tracklist, which includes the label’s runaway success of last year, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes, alongside tracks by Dirty Three, Vetiver, Midlake and Lift to Experience, whose ‘With Crippled Wings’ opens the collection and was a revelation to me with apocalyptic melodrama flowing through its every note.
The label have established themselves as one of the frontrunners in the British independent industry, gaining a reputation for nurturing album-artists who produce bodies of work with concepts behind them, rather than just radio-friendly singles or hollow, zeitgeist-chasing LPs. For example, Midlake”s second album The Trial of Van Occupanther contained tracks that demanded your attention immediately (‘Roscoe’) and others that gradually seared their mark on your mind, but all contained within a fleshed-out, considered framework. Fionn Regan’s The End of History is a another personal favourite of mine, a beautifully idiosyncratic album that utterly beguiled me with its charming lyrical oddness (‘Be Good or Be Gone’ starts with an apology for stealing items from a new love’s home) and atmospheric production. I’ve been anticipating more from him for some time now.
Two more recent Bella albums that have dominated my listening of late are Peter Broderick’s Home and Andrew Bird’s third, Noble Beast.
My first contact with Chicago’s Andrew Bird was with his …Mysterious Production of Eggs record from 2005. Bird offers a refreshing approach to the standard singer-songwriter fare: songs ornamented with baroque vocals, intricate strings and plenty of whistling. I’ve listened to Noble Beast a lot since its release back in January and at first it felt inviting and pleasant. With repeated listens the richness of the individual songs really hit me; the strings of ‘Anonanimal’ build gradually until a sudden burst of electric guitar strikes like lightning, with only the roll of a snare drum as a warning, leaving you as the thrilled spectator to a spectacular sight.
‘Not A Robot But a Ghost’ is one of those rare “what the…?” songs that leaves you wondering how musicians like Bird can craft five minutes of pure pop perfection by taking familiar motifs and creating something revelatory and addictive with them. As well as this refined sense of composition, what makes his music so essential is the clear delight he takes in wordplay and the complexities of the English language- Noble Beast is peppered with archaic and rarely heard terms that seem to be employed as much for the way they sound as their meaning.
Like Andrew Bird, precocious soloist Peter Broderick makes music that’s a subtle reinvention of traditional folk architecture. On Home, he takes the dusk-light delicacy of Mark Kozalek’s work as Sun Kil Moon and infuses it into circular songs that revel in repetition and incantation, as on standout ‘Below It’. ‘Sickness, Bury’ is the sound of waking up, as fingers gradually find strings and melodies grow and spread out, new layers sprouting from their fertile ground. Shimmering guitars then blanket the sound until nothing else can be heard. And then silence. Only then does Broderick’s reverb-drenched vocal appear, breathing warmth back into the landscape and bringing the song back to life.
Bon Iver feels like an obvious comparison, but where his For Emma, Forever Ago draws on the raw, visceral power of a never ending winter, Home is as emotionally overpowering as the first sign of spring and fluctuates like the season itself.