Silver Moth

A leap of faith reaps extraordinary rewards on Black Bay, an album of depth, atmosphere and daring from the collective known as Silver Moth. Recorded under unusual circumstances, Black Bay is the sound of seven storied musicians yielding to shared goals, a policy of trust in action. Between hushed incantations and molten guitars, 15-minute noise-rock epics and healing psalms, the record is a testament to connectivity and receptivity: to a union of disparate minds committing to something greater than the sum of its parts.

Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Elisabeth Elektra, Evi Vine, Steven Hill, members of Abrasive Trees, Burning House and Prosthetic Head convened to improvise the album in early 2021, following a Twitter exchange between Abrasive Trees guitarist/songwriter Matthew Rochford and musician Elisabeth Elektra about the Isle of Lewis. A couple of Zoom meetings would subsequently lead to Rochford, Elektra, Vine, Braithwaite, Hill, drummer Ash Babb and cellist Ben Roberts visiting the dramatic location of Great Bernera’s Black Bay Studios on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where they tracked the songs in just four days: a testament to the musicians’ focused openness to their shared mission and environment.

“Because we didn’t know each other before we went to Black Bay,” says Elisabeth, “we went into a really intense creative mode as soon as we got there. We were in a bubble and there was a lot of collective grief going on, so it was like a pressure cooker, but I think some real beauty came out of it.” As opener ‘Henry’ takes heady shape, that intensity makes its presence felt. Over a stealthy guitar chug, Evi Vine’s crystalline vocal seems to gather the arrangement around her, the players locked together as the song reaches its tempestuous climax: whether you attribute it to the purgative power of loud music, the location or a longed-for sense of communion, something beautiful duly emerges.

A tribute from Elektra to her late friend Alanna, ‘The Eternal’ unfurls with hymnal serenity. The chorus ascends from the plangent verses like a prayer, the players attentive and empathetic. Written by Evi and Elisabeth, the Talk Talk-ish madrigal ‘Mother Tongue’ extends an invitation to “listen” as its paean to female equality unfolds, fuelled by – explains Evi – the “need to reclaim and remember and give voice to those who are silenced”.

Based on a poem by the late Scottish writer Gerard Rochford, ‘Gaelic Psalms’ is a hypnotic spoken-word piece delivered by his son Matthew in fully-felt fashion; samples of lapping water complement the Kelpies and cairns of Gerard’s verse. ‘Hello Doom’ follows, the seven-piece flexing their full reserves of power over 15 minutes of incantatory song and imposing sound-scaping. Finally, ‘Sedna’ extends another tribute to the Outer Hebrides over ambient keys, poised guitar arpeggios and shuddering synths: a song for the sea.

Described by Elisabeth as “the magician who brought it all together,” Pete Fletcher’s production shows great sensitivity to space and mood. The cumulative effect is an album of elemental force and evocative poise, its controlled power focused around the ego-free chemistry between the players. “I knew with everything in me that we could make something powerful, beautiful, celestial and driven,” says Evi, “even though we had never met. We spend our lives in repetition, surrounded by certainty. It’s important to push aside the things we think we understand, because when we least expect it, change comes and we are lost.” By abandoning all certainties, Silver Moth have found something truly special on Black Bay.

Emma Tricca

“It felt like I was driving through tunnels,” Emma Tricca says of her fourth album – her first for Bella Union. A phosphorescent panorama of undulating colour, shape and sound.

As with any transformation, it is this sense of movement that underpins Aspirin Sun and its bold new form, ebbing and flowing, continually unfurling. The tunnels led the Italian-born, London-based singer-songwriter towards something expansive and far-reaching: an entirely new and experimental collection of songs. But they also drew her closer to her late father, and her memories of him driving them both in his small white Fiat, darting through the Alps and whizzing through darkened passageways, where shafts of light flickered ahead of them in the distance.

Light and shade; past and future; love and loss. “I was in uncharted territory trying to understand what was happening to me,” Tricca says. In the winter of 2018, only months after her mystical third album St. Peter was released, her father died, submerging her in a subaqueous world of grief. “I think that the loss really informed the tunes a lot,” she muses. And the tunes quickly emerged. Tricca decided to spend a few months in New York during the summer of 2019 – and started recording Aspirin Sun in her long-time collaborator Steve Shelley’s studio.

“With this record, it was very much accepting that one does what they do,” Tricca says philosophically. “Don’t try to be anyone else, you can’t fake what you’re not.” She wanted to venture outside her comfort zone, and the result is a kaleidoscopic exploration of what it means to break free from past constraints. From the supernatural swirling and whorling of ‘Through the Poet’s Eyes’ to the haunting susurration of mariachi brass on ‘Space and Time’, the rhythmic echoes of the Beat poets are never far away – a flame that was lit, aged 9, when Tricca read modernist poet Ungaretti’s ‘Mattina’ and went looking for further avant-garde freethinkers.

Ask Tricca how Aspirin Sun feels to her and she’ll describe it as “a weird germination” of disparate influences. A “Wim-Wenders-meets-Fellini-8 ½” kind of set-up – especially ‘Autumn’s Fiery Tongue’ which swells and amplifies into a pulsating, hallucinatory odyssey that came to her in a dream. “You know when the sun is in the sky and it’s so round it looks like an aspirin? This record very much depicts that kind of sky,” Tricca says. It also depicts the discombobulating nature of grief – as overexposed as a blazing ball of gas and light. “I was blindly finding my way through my grief with music and dreams that I wrote down in the morning.”

This new psychedelic horizon could only be fully brought to life by a band she calls her family. The same musicians she collaborated with on her 2018 outing, St. Peter: Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, Dream Syndicate guitarist Jason Victor, and bass player Pete Galub. All three musicians brought something unique to the record. “Pete comes from more of a traditional songwriting background, Steve and Jason are more experimental, and then there’s me, very much in-between. For me, that was magic,” she says. As an only child, Tricca has always been used to solitude. But when the world shut down, her windows flung open. “On the one hand, I’m a loner; on the other, I get so much excitement when I work with other people. If you grew up in a broken family, like I did, when it comes to work and friendship I’m always looking for the family I never had. That’s why, with these guys, I feel complete.”

After her initial stint in Shelley’s studio, Tricca flew back to London only to return to JFK airport in January 2020: a homecoming that she calls “fate” considering what was set to follow. A few months later, the world would irreparably change. “Hell broke loose with Covid,” she says – which only added to the record’s core theme: its sense of alienation. Back in London, she liaised with her New York band over the summer of 2020, working on overdubs and exchanging ideas, “finding a new way with a renewed confidence.”

Reading Frank O’Hara by day and listening to Can, Neu! and Brian Jonestown Massacre by night, Tricca ventured off the beaten path, extending beyond the softer Greenwich Village sound of her 2009 debut Minor White, keen to expand upon the classical Italian melodies that she’d grown up listening to as a young girl: Morricone, Puccini and Rossini. She carries these strong melodies in her blood just like the rhythms of the beat poets. “That’s my natural state,” she concludes.

Darkness and danger are always there, Tricca muses. But just like those darting beams of light she remembers from her childhood, racing through the Alps with her father, hope is never far from view. It pulsates brightly in the sky. “Time will go / Racing through space and an old fashioned waltz,” she sings on Aspirin Sun’s final track, ‘Space and Time.’ A mariachi trumpet calls us home.

Simon Raymonde

Simon Raymonde recorded his debut solo album Blame Someone Else whilst still in Cocteau Twins. Fellow Twins Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie both appeared on the album.

But Cocteau Twins were no more by the time the album was released. Originally issued in October 1997 it became the first release on Bella Union, the new label run by Simon and Robin. And soon after by Simon alone. Circumstances change, and the album unexpectedly arrived in a world where Cocteau Twins were in the past.

Twenty-five years later, Blame Someone Else is being released on vinyl for the first time as Solo Works 96-98with the addition of three bonus tracks recorded in the same time period. “It was begun in 1996 at a time of turmoil with Cocteau Twins,” says Simon of the album now. “At the time, I was unsure if I should make the album but my band-mates were extremely supportive, and their encouragement helped me get the record finished. It took me 25 years to feel comfortable with these songs being available again. We all have hurdles to get over before we can feel ready to let go of certain things. Today, I feel that the first-ever release on Bella Union should once again be an active part of the label’s history, if only to bookmark these first 25 years.”

Time changes context. Perspectives too. But the impact, scope and sensitivity of Solo Works 96-98 remain unaffected. During the opening track “It’s A Family Thing” Simon sings of yearning for stability, acknowledging the hesitation inherent to stepping out on his own. “In My Place” is more explicit – if he’s losing face, it’s his face. This one is on him. Versions of touchstone songs by Television and Scott Walker further state that this his own endeavour.

Any intimations of uncertainty evaporate as the album ends with the sonic whirlpool “Tired Twilight,” a seamless union of the impressionistic and rhythmic. Ultimately, knowing the dates and circumstances is unnecessary, Solo Works 96-98 occupies its own space.

Temps

Bella Union are thrilled to introduce Temps, a 40-strong international music collective devised, curated and produced by celebrated UK comedian James Acaster. Ahead of an album due out next year, and with Acaster appearing on Late Night with Seth Myers on Monday, Temps have shared first single “no,no” featuring Shamir, NNAMDÏ, Quelle Chris, Xenia Rubinos & Seb Rochford. An innovative fusion of atmospheric alt rock, unorthodox hip hop and loose jazz time signatures, the track comes accompanied by a video featuring Acaster in his Party Gator guise visiting a theme park.

When the first UK lockdown was announced, Acaster found himself in the fortunate position of having recently released a book and a podcast about modern music, for which he’d interviewed countless musicians, all of whom he was a massive fan of. And he still had their email addresses. So he spent the next two years sending tracks back and forth, between himself and his heroes, as they gradually discovered an album together. Genres were disregarded in favour of tightly-packed experimentalism and everyone was given free rein to do as they pleased then Acaster would cherry pick his favourite bits, “a DIY Gorillaz” being the methodic touchstone.

With each contribution the songs would morph into something new and uncalculated, informing what came next. A freeform rap might encourage a sax solo, a baroque guitar line might prompt a choir of recorders – whatever the track was asking for, it got. This collaborative, transient approach led to the group’s name, Temps. During a time where everything felt weirdly temporary, they’d made something permanent and formed a collective, somewhere between a side project and a supergroup.

Vast in scope and scale, and fizzing with an experimental energy, Temps’ music manages to blend a host of ideas, guests and moods that draw you into its own unique world. “I became completely obsessed with this project,” states Acaster, “it was all I focussed on for two years and we ended up making my favourite thing ever. I hope people enjoy it.” … Stay tuned for more info!

Complete Mountain Almanac

Complete Music Almanac is the musical collaboration of Norwegian-born, Sweden-based singer and composer Rebekka Karijord and American-born, Italy-based poet, dancer and multimedia artist Jessica Dessner, joined by her brothers Aaron andBryce Dessner of The National.

Sometimes, two artists come together and transcend mere musical collaboration. Herein, the perfect example. Rebekka Karijord and Jessica Dessner met by chance in Brooklyn in the late ‘00s. Immediately taking an immense liking to one another, their friendship and shared artistry has produced one of the most important projects of both of their careers, now 15 years on.

This meeting resulted in the creation of Complete Mountain Almanac, an artistic and musical project combining Rebekka’s expert songwriting and Jessica’s poetic and lyrical prowess. Complete Mountain Almanac first took seed in Rebekka’s mind: to compose an album about climate change in 12 suites, representing the 12 months of the year and the inherent healing cycle of nature. As she entered the initial writing stage, she approached Jessica to create the visual component of the project. Soon after, Jessica was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her own creative practice began to fuel her own internal healing process. In addition to working on the project’s artwork, she wrote a book of poetry, entitled Complete Mountain Almanac. Once these words were in Rebekka’s hands, they soon found their home as the lyrical matter for the songs – as well as baptizing the women’s collaboration, and debut release, with its name. The experience of personal illness and healing, alongside the experience of addressing climate change and the potency of nature, found an existential common ground in the two women’s collaboration. And Complete Mountain Almanac stands as testimony to their raw uncovering – an ode to rejuvenation, joy, and hope.

The album features performances and co-production from Jessica’s twin brothers, Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. The four artists united in Paris’ St. Germain studios to work on transforming Rebekka’s demos into a fully-fledged album. In order to preserve the urgency and soul of the material, all the tracks were recorded live, just Rebekka’s voice intricately laced through Aaron and Bryce’s expert guitar playing. As co-producer Rebekka then added minimalistic textures including horns and synthesisers, whilst Bryce wrote string arrangements for six songs that were performed by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra.

As the record cycles through the seasons, the seamless correlation between reckoning with the state of the planet in the wake of the climate crisis, and the healing of one’s body becomes abundantly clear. Sonically, the album cycles through folk, classical, chamber music and everything in between, creating a cocoon-like atmosphere that draws the listener into a stand-alone universe. It’s a marriage of the inner and outer worlds, illness and rejuvenation, grief and joy.

Emiliana Torrini And The Colorist Orchestra

Picture this: a big storm is brewing overhead. You’re careening through the backroads of rural Iceland, trying desperately to catch your flight out of Reykjavik as the skies darken behind you. You’ve just had one of the best songwriting sessions of your life, in a farmhouse deep in the Icelandic countryside, but none of that matters now. You’ve found yourself in a race against time to get all your work to the next studio and continue working on your album—one that just might turn out to be one of the most important of your entire career.

This exact scenario is what befell Belgian duo The Colorist Orchestra and Icelandic-Italian singer-songwriter EmilianaTorrini during one of the many recording sessions for their new collaborative album—and the experience was so emblematic of the entire awe-inspiring, chaotic, life-affirming process, that they ended up naming the record Racing the Storm.

The Colorist Orchestra knows a thing or two about controlled chaos. Since their inception in 2013, close friends and multi-instrumentalists Aarich Jespers and Kobe Proesmans have taken on the task of reinterpreting other artists’ discographies with their unique blend of pop, electronic and world music. In 2015, they entered into a collaboration with Emiliana, who at that time was already well into her own illustrious career, having released six studio albums, as well as the international hit “Jungle Drum”.

“When Kobe and Aarich contacted me, I was really in this ‘anything goes’ mindset,” explains Emiliana, “I was very honored without knowing much about what the agreement entailed. I just told them to choose the songs. Months after, I met them in Belgium, totally unprepared, and they all blew me away.” What was supposed to only be five concerts together turned into an album, 2018’s The Colorist Orchestra & Emiliana Torrini, in which some of her most famous songs are given a completely new identity, reworked with TCO’s intricate and harmonious arrangements.

Even with one album under their collective belts, Kobe, Aarich and Emiliana still felt like there was unfinished business—that they still had another story to tell. “In the beginning there was the intention to work together for three weeks and do five gigs,” says Kobe, “and then we kept on finding the result really nice. We did a live recording and then we promoted that album, and then at a certain moment we just said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have another excuse to play together?’ We felt like, ‘Why not try to write a new album?’”

Thus, the first germinations of Racing the Storm took hold. Kobe and Aarich began to lay down demos for Emiliana to lay down vocals to, but like the darkening Icelandic horizon, things were not as breezy as they could have been. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic took its toll on the entire world, and all three members had other projects in the works during the writing process.

“The whole period of writing this album was a constant search of how to keep this adventure going, with all the limitations of distance and time and not being able to be together,” explains Kobe of the record’s early days. “I thought that was the biggest challenge, to maintain the musically vibrant connection between the three of us. Because when Aarich and I work we are living very close to each other and we are in the studio together, we can talk—most of the creation happens when you have food and when you talk and you listen to a song and we missed that a lot with Emiliana in the beginning.”

It wasn’t all strife and struggle though, as anyone who listens to Racing the Storm’s melodious intricacies can attest. There’s an undeniable camaraderie to the music, the sound of three people who really enjoy each other’s company and creativity joining forces to explore the sum of their parts. “I think we share a lot of the same interests, not only music, but also movies and art and culture,” says Aarich and he and Kobe’s relationship to Emiliana. “It felt easy to do things together because our tastes in this project are very close to one another.”

Both Kobe and Aarich are quick to point out that, while Racing the Storm is very much the work of a collective, Emiliana has taken on the role of frontperson, and both her lyrics and vocal performance are inherent to the album’s sound. The first single from the album, “Right Here”, is a perfect example of Emiliana’s singular songwriting style, and how it melts perfectly into TCO’s orchestral arrangements. It’s the poppiest song on the record—Emiliana describes it as being “sung from a daydream whilst being poked repeatedly in the shoulder by the outside world.” The song trots along warmly with strings and marimbas interlocking into a joyous melody. Emiliana’s voice, while somewhat soft, commands the listener to drink in every single moment of reverie.

At the end of the day, what comes across the most with Racing the Storm is the strong bond between them. While coming from somewhat different backgrounds—Emiliana found chart-topping success while being classically trained in opera; Kobe was raised in the Belgian countryside before taking his world and classical schooling to Cuba to perfect his percussion skills’; Aarich is a tried-and-true autodidact drummer—it’s as if the three of them (along with mixer and producer Jo Fracken, who expertly directs Racing the Storm into the exhilarating album it is) have found a special common space where the rules of the outside world simply don’t apply. “There are no rules,” says Kobe, smiling. “Emiliana always says that this is a story that started way before we met each other, and that the push and pull between our different backgrounds and personalities is what makes this collaboration so special.”