Bell Gardens are a composite that has evolved, being formed originally as a side-project for Brian McBride and Kenneth James Gibson, of Stars Of The Lid and Furry Things/[a]pendics.shuffle respectively, to explore their love of folk music. So whilst this project’s origins came from a desire to experiment, their output is more populist than the techno and drone stylings of their previous work. Slow Dawns For Lost Conclusions is the duo’s second album and is season-less in its beauty. It could accompany any month and add vigour to the colours on show. As this comes to us in November, it feels like an album to cuddle up with, unpack the winter-wardrobe to and to hold as a friend through the darkening days.
The duo’s second album is nine tracks long, and it’s a leisurely nine tracks. The opener, Darker Side Of Silent, unfurls slowly, in no rush to bloom. Red House Painters, Mojave 3, Spiritualised and Calexico could all be cited as influences, and yet none of them quite encompass what Bell Gardens are doing. The slowest of ride cymbals, lap-steel guitar and gently reverb-laden guitar lines chime, whilst thick, choral vocals emit as if in a hymnal, a confession or an offering of thanks. This approach is repeated in Silent Prayer but here the lap-steel is the star. It’s a slow, slow bottleneck blues ballad, the slide twangs across the neck of a steel guitar, the lap-steel shines and shimmers. The verses are a simple five-chord structure that enchant in their sweet rotation, the chorus an interjection of harmonies stating “when you find me dead ashore/and there’s nothing more to remember/who’s been buried before”. Bell Gardens repeat this pattern and let it burn slowly before a sumptuous blue-grass guitar part flecks in with the kind of playing Union Station would provide.
For some, this glacial pace could infuriate, if you find Yo La Tengo too twee or Low too quite then you might find Slow Dawns For Lost Conclusions too slow in its gentle flicker, for Sail carries a stern solemnity that again, moves incrementally through its opening, sumptuous, haze. What others may will adore in this album is the simple slowness of these musical reflections. Sail is four chords, gently plucked on a piano and a baritone vocal that recalls Nick Cave when he hushes the listener. Its embellished by a Fifties doo-wop guitar that hauntingly punctuates and the song builds with brass and strings. Sail is a genuine wall of sound that develops over six minutes, a glorious wall of sound.
She’s Stuck In The Endless Loop Of Her Decline is a song that drifts, the vocal line trails softly up and down, an acoustic strum and a tambourine set the pace by which it merrily ambles, happy in its genle activity. In part this fuels a desire to pull out a Neil Young album, maybe Harvest Moon, one where Young lets the lap-steel wail in the background as it does here. But the vocal line here only ebbs gently, Young always sends his voice high. As a soft choral harmony briefly flutters into the song, it works as a meditation as much as a song.
Admittedly Slow Dawns For Lost Conclusions won’t please everyone – but those people probably don’t care for music as an art form. Even the fanfare of She Does which, with its tron-strings, recalls the Super Furry Animals, may not win over those who want immediate gratification from music. The beauty of this album is its tempo and simplicity, with each listen the album becomes richer and richer as each sounds becomes familiar and the intricacies peep through. But this will do very little for those who make a judgement on a 20 second snapshot. For that listener, this dawn will never come.