FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Label Of Love: Bella Union

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Words: Mark Carry, illustration: Craig Carry

Why most of the music on your ipod consists mostly of Bella Union artists is a testament to the phenomenal output of awe-inspiring music that the label has  released since it was founded back in 1997.

2012 sees Bella Union celebrate its 15th anniversary; fittingly it’s the same year Dirty Three return with their rejuvenating work ‘Toward The Low Sun’. Many of the full-blown classic albums released over the years on the forever reliable independent label come from the legendary Australian trio. The elements of violin (Warren Ellis), guitar (Mick Turner) and drums (Jim White) combine to evoke an overwhelming spectrum of human emotions. On ‘Toward The Low Sun’, their eighth album, they remain peerless as improvisers of instrumental intensity and beauty. Spanning Bella Union’s lifespan, Dirty Three albums ‘Ocean Songs’ (1998),’Whatever You Love You Are’, ‘Cinder’ (2005) and the latest ‘Toward The Low Sun’ (2012) firmly grace the music world. As Ellis has said, ‘There is a dialogue within the group that we are still keen to explore’.

We, the music listeners, continue to ‘explore’ new bands and artists through the devoted output of the Bella Union label. The record label was founded by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde of Scottish alternative rock band Cocteau Twins who created a heavenly, ethereal dream-pop collage of sound. Since 2002, the label has been run solely by Simon Raymonde. Unsurprisingly, it is this unique blend of dream pop that is apparent on the Bella Union roster of like-minded acts, who have the necessary freedom to create their art.

A seamless array of gems have been discovered and re-discovered over the past fifteen years. Fleet Foxes self titled debut (2009) and follow-up ‘Helplessness Blues’ (2011) epitomizes the magic realm of music discovery the label so clearly thrives on. Beach House’s utterly stellar dream pop creations: ‘Devotion’ (2008), ‘Teen Dream’ (2010) and ‘Bloom’ (2012) conveys the immense level of artistic depth within the Bella Union sphere. The enrapturing, elegant sound of The Czars ‘Goodbye’ (2006), the life-affirming concept record ‘Glory Hope Mountain’ from The Acorn (2007), irresistible French chanteuse Francoiz Breut ‘Vingt A Trente Mille Jours’ (2001) and Midlake’s transcendent ‘Trials of Van Occupanther’ (2006) are just some of the many glowing embers of artistic brilliance showcased by Bella Union.

I was first introduced to Bella Union in 2004 in the form of a free label sampler CD from my ever-dependable local recordstore Plugd in Cork. The title was ‘Beneath The Surface Vol. 1′ and upon first listening I knew I needed to explore deeper, beneath the surface. The hauntingly beautiful solo piano of Dustin O’ Halloran scattered among the astral indie pop of Trespassers William and the evocative ‘Through December’ by Laura Veirs opened up a heavenly wall of sound. My highlight was the fourth track, ‘Little Pink House’ by The Czars. I was (very) late in discovering this very special band, fronted by the great John Grant. The song encompasses free jazz, gospel and late night blues that hits you straight to the heart’s core. More recently, John Grant has embarked on a solo career; his debut album ‘Queen Of Denmark'(2010) was lavished upon with critical praise from all corners of the music world.

Later in 2004, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs released her second studio album ‘Carbon Glacier’on Bella Union.The album consists of immense simplicity and unerring beauty. The isolated songwriting style contained within the winter laments evoke the cold, harsh landscape of the Colorado Rockies that formed Veirs’ childhood. Layers of gorgeous instrumentation (banjo, piano, glockenspiel, vibraphone, trombone, guitars, percussion) creates moving folk music, the effect of which is transcendent. On the opening track ‘Ether Sings’, Veirs sings ‘All the time spent dreaming is never lost’ illustrating how the album, like so many Bella Union releases, is for the dream space.

An equally special album arrived four years later, from the multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick, whose ‘Home’ (2008) album was his Bella Union debut. Amazingly, Broderick was a mere 21 years of age when making this record. A wonderful fusion of field recordings, found sounds and folk/americana creates a breathtakingly beautiful ambient-folk soundscape. It’s an album I’ve returned to countless times, and each time something new can be discovered. ‘And It’s Alright’ builds into a blissful folk pop gem and ‘Not At Home’ is simply sublime. Live, Peter Broderick is a spectacle to behold. Alone on stage with his array of instruments close at hand, he loops violins,musical saw, piano, vocal harmonies, in turn creating music that transcends time.

The Bella Union album that I must pick as my all-time favourite must be ‘Teen Dream’ by Beach House, released in January 2010. The special chemistry that exists between Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally creates such powerful, compelling, unique dream pop of sheer beauty. Their live performance at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona is one of the best concerts I’ve ever witnessed. Furthermore, their latest album ‘Bloom’ looks to be one of the most important albums of 2012, and beyond.

Later this Summer, Bella Union acts galore grace the idyllic South England Dorset countryside, at the End Of The Road festival. Dirty Three, The Low Anthem, Midlake, Beach House, John Grant, Jonathan Wilson, I Break Horses, Lanterns On The Lake among many others will truly inspire audiences from August 31st to the 2nd of September 2012. Bella Union’s 15th anniversary is a real cause for celebration and ‘with the notes in my ears’ I look forward immensely to the next 15 years.

Written by admin

July 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

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