Bell Gardens are a band based around the duo of Brian McBride (one half of drone outfit Stars of the Lid) and Kenneth James Gibson, a member of 1990's dream-noise act The Furrys as well as a man responsible for various other projects. A press release reveals that the duo were "trying to stay faithful to a time period in which songs had been recorded. Wanting to experiment in what they believed to be a classic type of sound, the two used mainly live instrumentation, thinking about what was available in studios from the 50s to the mid 70s. Preset software sounds were rejected for their own recording of pianos, strings and horns."
The result is a wonderfully natural sound as well as a joyous, subtle mixture of styles. At eight tracks long, there's no filler, just beautiful and well-crafted songs which often leave themselves plenty of space to breathe, while still bearing a pleasing amount of strikingly majestic arrangements. It's a record that sees a welcome revival of classic pop while still drawing from a palette of interesting and intelligent sounds.
Seductive melodies flow through the engaging delicacy of opener 'Clinging To The Almost', an instrumental that sets the tone nicely and comes complete with the sort of strings that transport the listener to a dream world. 'Differently Tonight' is a warm, strummed lullaby that sees the introduction of Gibson's soothingly captivating vocals, resting on a genuinely touching melody, before the gorgeously emotive piano notes and mysterious elegance of 'Bobby' takes a walk into melodic post-rock territory. 'Nowhere' begins with blissful harmonies and pretty instrumentation before softly launching into a stunning Spiritualized-esque hymn.
'Fruitcup', with its sumptuous slide guitar and hazy ambience, is largely instrumental except for its lyricless choral vocals, and is almost like Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica' if it was written with Brian Wilson. Then there's the magnificent single 'Through The Rain', which also hints at 'Pet Sounds'-era Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground's 'Sunday Morning', but rises above any comparisons, charming you gently during its sweet verse and capturing your heart with its beautiful harmony driven chorus. It is quite simply one of the finest examples of music in recent times and an indispensable burst of sunshine confirming that Bell Gardens have a real gift.
'South' is a real grower, wonderfully atmospheric brass complimenting a tearful melody and mournful vocals, while 'To Land''s swooning guitar lends itself nicely to the comforting strings and slow burning charm of its spacious beauty. Here is an example of two hugely talented musical minds coming together to make a lovely record that is sure to find a special place in the hearts of those who are lucky enough to hear it. A triumph. 9.5