Days of waking, phantoms in branches

Thoughts on “The World Is A Bell” by The Leaf Library

How quickly can you fall in love with music? I mean… Is it an instant reaction sometimes or does it take time? I suppose it’s like all kinds of love, there’s instant attraction and then over time you explore depths, highs and lows, and find out what lasts longest, what will endure, and that is true love.

The Leaf Library have created an album which will instantly attract the listener, but has so much depth that the listener can wallow in it for hours, days, months and not get bored. And once the exploration days are done, the true beauty of this music will be shown.

Am I making sense? I doubt it. This is how “The world is a bell” makes me feel. Confused, but pleasantly confused, and willing to be confused again and again until the puzzle is solved. Over time, the music here has sunk into my life, the melodies worming their way into my subconscious, appearing when I don’t expect them. There’s so much beauty in this music it’s almost unbearable.

Some facts (take one). I don’t know many facts about The Leaf Library. I first came across them when they recorded an introductory jingle for Pete Paphides’ radio show on Soho Radio. He may have played their music too, I’m not sure. But that 30 seconds of lightly arpeggio-d guitar, in the style of Vini Reilly, made me notice them. I was intrigued. That’s all the facts I know about The Leaf Library. Maybe I should do some research? They have a very British sound, if that helps. It doesn’t, does it? British is such a tainted word at the moment. Sorry. Do you need facts to enjoy the music? Do you need to know where they’re coming from or where they’re at? No. You need to use your ears and listen.

Some facts (take two). “The world is a bell” is the second full album by The Leaf Library, after many variations on their debut album “Daylight versions” in 2015. It will be released on 25th October 2019. This album features collaborations with a number of people of whom I’ve never heard of. You may have heard of them, I don’t know. So much for facts. Facts don’t do what I want them to. Thanks David. Still waiting.

I have said this many times before and I will probably repeat it many times again, but I am a great believer in the idea that music reflects the seasons, somehow the musicians know instinctively when the music will be issued and it becomes seasonal. “The world is a bell” is autumnal in nature, greens turning to burnished orange, gold, red and brown, nights drawing in, wondering which day we will turn the heating on for the first time since April. It starts bright, like a crisp Autumn morning. “In doors and out through windows” could be a calmer less guitar centred Bark Psychosis or a clearer late period Talk Talk – a 7 / 8 rhythm keeps the listener on their toes, slow layers building up, drums, a muted brass section, vibes and piano before the bass arrives for propulsion after two minutes. There’s dots and loops here (and maybe a hint of “Dots and Loops”) but all naturally created. Or if they are looped well it’s incredibly skillful because it does sound very natural. “Hissing waves” is an early favourite, definitely echoes of Insides here (not a problem at all, new Insides music would be most welcome around Goldfish Towers). Whereas Kirsty Yates whispers of truths and secrets, Kate Gibson and Melinda Bronstein’s multitracked harmonies maybe point to the album’s own creation – “An endless looping cycle” – or a more abstract thought. Afternoon shadows, days on fire…. Relentless and building, a song which could happily go on forever. “Whatever I say, we are”. An early highlight.

“Patience” builds up from a simple synth sequence – as simple as the opening on “I hear you now” – while drums roll and guitars jangle, and again the slow build is beautiful, a melody snaking around the song. A chord change comes as a shock ninety seconds into the song. There’s no hurry about the performance, again a brass section grounds the song like a colliery band, while Gibson and Bronstein’s multitracked vocals trail off – “So long, see you tomorrow”. Beautiful. “Larches eat moths” is a more ambient track, eerie droning noisescapes, echos and cries, spooked and tense, a voice in the distant. And … Er…. I know I gave up biology in the third year but don’t moths eat larches? Is there some backwards logic there? It darkens the flow of the album, but it works well as a palate cleanser for a two part masterpiece.

“The world is a bell” resounds around a bell-like electric piano figure of a G note played across an octave, while pizzicato strings become harshly bowed, increasing in quiet fury. (Quite first album PCO, this one, I’d say, or early Rachel’s). This flows into “Bright seas” where that G note repeats but now there’s percussion and deeper instrumental textures, rolling tom tom drums and heavenly vocals are sung into a reverb haze. It’s lovely indeed, memories of Virginia Astley at her most pop-like, pastoral and pure. Again layers upon layers build almost without the listener noticing (where did that string section arrive from?), until finally cocooned in the music’s flow. The centrepiece of the album and one of my favourite pieces of music this year.

“Bodies carried off by bees” – it depends how small the bodies are, I suppose – is another ambient diversion, found sounds and fog, not a piece of music to whistle along to, but to feel and appreciate like “Sulliday” on “69”. (Simon Reynolds on “Sulliday” – “it is a piece that should be listened to not as a musical or lyrical sequence but as a succession of moments… Be supine before it” – that’s how I feel about “Bodies carried off by bees.”) Again the build up is subtle yet dramatic.

“An endless” is motorik electro passed through a post-rock filter, the insistent snap of the drum machine and rumble of bass, a haunting vocal melody, and again more layers and layers, vocals call and response, guitars and synths and pianos, each element beautifully adding its own melody. So rich in texture. Maybe I was wrong, maybe this is a highlight. Around five minutes everything stops briefly before real drums take over, more sequences and that bell chiming like a clock, a glorious build up again. Fabulous. I never want this to end and it never overstays it’s welcome. “An Endless” is perfect. I could get lost and swept up in its ebb and flow forever.

“More than half asleep” is a quiet short piece reminding me of an Eno short on “Music for films” or the second half of “Lauft…heisst das es Lauft Oder es kommt bald” by Faust and is a prelude to the final song here, the 20 minute “Paper boats on black ink lake”. A slowly tapped cymbal (or gong perhaps?), slow chord changes on bass and guitar, as tense as Mogwai, again a slow build, a string arrangement to die for, four chords circling and building, so lovely. Around seven minutes, the strings hold on to a static chord, the percussion drops away, it’s holding on for something, the tension is unbearable. And then an clarinet (?) sings in the distance, a fog horn through the mist of strings and static. And finally the tension is broken by feedback, bass and drums, like Swans on holiday in the Lake District. A final release for the tension across the album, grinding onwards and onwards to the close. Dramatic and fulfilling.

What exactly is “The World Is A Bell”? Music to wallow in, music to soak up, music to explore without a map, music to enlighten, music to spook, music to darken the day, music to think about, music to wash away the world. This is beautiful music. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, sometimes I wasn’t even sure if it was my cup of tea, but persistence has prevailed. There are so many moments of absolute beauty here that you, dear reader, need to listen to. It may take time but the effort is totally rewarded.

“The world is a bell” by the Leaf Library is available here…

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