Linear Bells






A new album by David Teboul aka Linear Bells? On Gavin Catling's Perth-based micro label Twice Removed? Ever since I knew about the prospect of Esther being released in December 2012, I looked forward to it in pleasant anticipation, quite ready to write about it as soon as it was released. But why the limiting word quite? Because Teboul is a style-related chameleon, he meshes instruments such as a classic piano and an electric guitar with synth washes and related pads, as many musicians do, but reassembles their characteristic traits time and again. Such being the case, each new album or EP has one overarching thing in common, namely that it is a Drone-focused Ambient artifact. The rest is always an enigma. I have not even reviewed all of his works and EP's. While his debut Los Angeles EP under the moniker Linear Bells was a careful nod towards Vangelis, the Blade Runner flick, chock-full of dry synth stabs and an interesting entanglement of space and sound, the following An Island, released on the Swedish Zeon Light cassette label, meshed field recordings and much dreamier multilayered Drone creeks with differing moods. Being inspired by a trip to the Brittany-located Chaucer Islands, An Island oscillated between an innocent enchantment and hazier landscapes. Hazy. Yes, that's the right term for his latest work which Teboul dedicates to his new-born daughter. Esther comprises of six tracks, two of them collaborations, but all of them Drone-based and different in style. Of particular interest is the overexposed crystallization of the various moods: bright tracks are terrifically euphoric, gloomy tracks perniciously dark and mysterious tracks full of enigmas. While there are many alcoves and cracks in the cloudy synth strings, most of the time the listener can bathe in an enchanting stream of drones. In addition, Teboul allows his compositions the time to unfold and to keep a certain state for several minutes; longer durations make this possible. Read more about Esther below and listen to it in full on the dedicated Bandcamp page. Twice Removed curator Gavin Catling provided me with a digital version of Esther, but I am in the process of properly buying this and many other of this label's releases now and throughout the year.


Angels is the, well, seraphic gateway to the haziest Dronescapes Linear Bells has come up with thus far. Launching with the most naturally musical drone there is, namely a deep piano tone, its inclusion harks back in a twofold way to both the tendency of many Ambient artists to interweave classical instruments in their works of 2012 and David Teboul's history of injecting this instrument every so often. Angels is no classical piano arrangement though, for a crystalline luminescence of stretched synth chimes and the tremolo of bittersweet stardust creeks are equipollent parts of the listening experience. The mood is cinematic and majestic, the composition itself surprisingly lacunar: instead of legato drone washes, Linear Bells allows the piano tones to conflate with the glittering backdrop, and the backdrop itself to mesh with the vault-like cavern in the distance. Large quantities of reverberation and decay as well as Geiger counter-esque Glitch vesicles fuel this perception further. The dichotomy of mollifying warmth and gelid iciness is maintained throughout the arrangement, and it is near the end that Angels turns into major tone territories via its piano chords which are then juxtaposed to spiraling galactic whisps. A stupefying opener that turns melancholy into rapture bit by bit.


The following Baby Frequencies is not only one of the cutest titles I have ever came across in the Ambient genre, but builds up the aforementioned haziness to the maximum. Stylistically, it is closely related to Gas' Zauberberg 1. While the starting point is a thin and distant breeze which approaches the listener as the 14+ minutes long take progresses, ethereal synth streams are soon applied to the forlorn atmosphere. Multifaceted cloudy drone layers unfold, and even though there are many textures and surfaces included, the synth layers don't feel overloaded or disproportionately filled. The dreamscape is perfectly in place, there are no whirling slivers or spluttering artifacts. Baby Frequencies lives up to its name and delivers the perfect monotony. The tones do not change, the timbre is only slightly altered but always embracing and warm. It is only in the latter half that far-away noises of children, twinkling synth aortas and rain-like scintillae approach; it is here that the iridescence rises in the form of a hymnic organ. After a slow fade-out and the complete disappearance of the misty aura, Purple Night is next, a tune co-written with Endless Melancholy, a mysterious Modern Classical and Ambient producer. Whereas Baby Frequencies depicted an ambiguously lofty heaviness, Purple Night unleashes a mirage of thermionic ardor and tranquility. The tone sequences meander deeper, the bass drones are much more upfront, but beneath them swirls a snugness which encompasses bliss and mirth. A gorgeously solemn piano melody is placed in-between an echoey flock of birds, a welcome addition that harks back to Linear Bells' album An Island where Teboul added transparent field recordings for the first time. The interplay between him and Endless Melancholy works really well, and it culminates in a pompous moment of true happiness that thankfully enough lasts for several minutes. The drones, while being louder, accentuate the piano melody and eventually swallow it. The song fades out with mechanical drones that sound cold and harsh in the given context of this enormously euphoric Drone track. This one has to be heard to be believed. A synergetic hallmark.


Dawn Lights proves to be another collaboration. Jeff Stonehouse and Jeff Head from Listening Mirror are on board to create light after the already radiant brightness of Purple Night. The setting is resplendent: the whole arrangement features a field recording as its centerpiece which is then carefully ennobled with purposefully sparse instrumentation. The bird-inhabited territory is traversed by windy synth storms, gurgling water, allotted piano tones and sine chimes. Rain sets in, a curiously metropolitan synth stream places the remainders of a concrete jungle to the emerald-green thickets and blue-tinged droplets. The piano motif consists of four to five notes which are repeated ad inifinitum. Due to the large reverb, it may well boost the loneliness, but it is the contemplative kind of isolation and thus skillfully interwoven. The next track is called Song For A Cellar, and no, Svarte Geiner is not featured on this track. Why this name-dropping? Because Linear Bells goes Dark Ambient! Well, at least a bit. Even with the first synth-accompanied guitar drone swirling around the listener, a certain tension is perceptible, and sure enough does the cacophony grow. Dripping water, an uneasily swelling balm of arcaneness and a cave-like depth altogether create the aura of an upper-region dungeon. Gloominess is all over this piece, but it is never too intense or spine-tingling. A nice change and yet coherent in the context of Esther. The finale is called This Is Where It All Started, and it showcases the variety Teboul has presented thus far. It is by no means an ever-changing track, but its ingredients are the most varied. Launching with clinging ice cubes, crackling foot steps and a continuation of the Dark Ambient scheme in the form of cavernous electric guitar drones that shuffle between a pitch-black source of power and a brown-tinted earthen feel, the song suddenly opens up with a nature scenery full of croaking frogs, crickets and birds. It is here that a second synth layer is glued to the dark guitar layers, suddenly elevating them to higher spheres, at least partially so. This double entendre remains in terrifying depths but moves into loftier airs; purgatory? Hopefully not! The aura remains tense and crestfallen. Esther ends on a darker note, a timbre that has always been omnipresent in the majority of Teboul's output.


Esther is a superb Drone album. It is Linear Bells' greatest work to date, and not only are the reasons manifold, but there are also a few unavoidable shortcomings in order to achieve this grandeur: there are no synth stabs or acidic elements in here. The classical instruments are not carved out or in the limelight, but always accompanied by traversing synths. Esther further lacks a more prominent use of Glitch elements. But all of these shortcomings can undoubtedly be perceived as definite strengths as well, be it the coruscating fragility in Angels, the total and utter euphoric euphony in Purple Night or the final two Dark Ambient pieces. The whole album shows the growth of Teboul's abilities. And yet, Esther is no showcase album of various styles, but depicts a consistency that is incredibly hard to achieve once the stylistic particularities widen. Everything Teboul and his collaborators do, they do completely right. While the aforementioned Purple Night is my personal signature track in regard to the Pop Ambient formula and a majestic anthem of good vibrations and gentle insinuations overall, it is the final two Dark Ambient tracks which blow me away, as they are truly unexpected. They are so skillfully built and their tension so well nurtured and kindled that I am hoping for further Dark Ambient outings by Linear Bells. Song For A Cellar and This Is Where It All Started do not offer cheap thrills or truly medulla-emptying creeps, but the nervousness, the implied lost situation and the perverse beauty of highly personal apocalyptic incidents or encounters is greatly transcoded into these two tracks. Apart from my personal taste, Esther succeeds with its many field recordings, the aural panorama and wide sceneries it paints and, most importantly, the different textures and patterns. I say it once more: David Teboul is a chameleon in the metaphorical sense and able to achieve everything within the realms of Drone. There is no particular flaw on, in, around or under this album, not one thing I would love him to improve. Highly recommended! 




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Ambient Review 167: Linear Bells – Esther (2012). Originally published on Jan. 2, 2013 at