Linear Bells
For Your Eyes Only






Linear Bells aka Nantes-based multi-instrumentalist David Teboul is one of my favorite Ambient artists, and I hope he remains in this overarching genre for a long time. This curious remark will be further explicated throughout the review of For Your Eyes Only, released in October 2013 on the Kiev, Ukraine-based Hidden Vibes label which is run by Oleksiy Sakevych aka Endless Melancholy, himself a previous collaborator with David Teboul. It is available to purchase and fully streamable at Bandcamp. For Your Eyes Only comprises of seven electro-acoustic tracks and is, in short, a return to the artist’s field recording-heavy An Island (Zeon Light, 2012) which was additionally made of synths and guitars and glowed like a verdured Summer day. For Your Eyes Only is similar, yet differs strongly, as it is also a step into a new direction: this is first and foremost an acoustic album with less filters and post-processing than ever before in Teboul's works. I tend to overanalyze album titles, but they are as important a part of in-depth reviews as the actual satellites that make up a complete work. I truly believe that the title is particularly astute, as it poignantly insinuates a desiccate, more minimal approach right from the get-go. And indeed, For Your Eyes Only does not only feel more minimal, it is factually intimate: neither are there collaborations, nor humongous monoliths of the range between 15+ or even 25+ that appeared on previous albums such as the polyvalent Esther (Twice Removed Records, 2012), the dominantly silkened I Can Dream or the brooding yet energetic Lost (both 2013). Everything is laid-back, feels like an interim phase before Linear Bells' next big thing, and David Teboul himself, not the semi-knowledgeable reviewer, is responsible for this feeling. That the beloved drone layers are only a byproduct of this album is the first huge surprise, with the many classic piano foundations being the second, and the interdependency between sound, sustain and space the third one. Granted, there is much else to say, so here we go.


The title of the comparably short opener – barely missing the three-minute mark – could be a poignant criticism of the cinematic system à la Hollywood: It Was Not Christmas But It Looked Like It is the golden thread of every Christmas-related movie ever produced, for one cannot ask the film crew, let alone the stars, to work on Christmas Eve only to capture the true essence of that certain feeling. It has become en vogue to bash sentimentalism and candid joy that are related to these festivities, and by the look of things, David Teboul’s approach is driven by similar tendencies. A quavering starlit two-tone melody on the organ does not inherit ecclesiasticism, but emits unequivocal creepiness. The adjacent clicks and splutters are too emaciated to resemble gatherings around a cozy fireplace, but once cautious bass blebs and frequency-bent piano spirals enter the scenery like party-crashing jagged prongs, and once the said bass blebs grow into the staggering footsteps of a demon, the oddest of all states is established. Everything feels thin and admonitory on this piece. Where are the veiled drone washes, frilly ornaments and coruscating music box sparks? Nowhere near this piece which, I might add, only nurtures its sinister motif by letting twilight and ashen beams in. This is indeed the most outlandish vignette Linear Bells has created thus far, its meaning and innermost core completely opaque.


The following Sketch For The Summer, however, is awash with the positive, saturated kind of light and marries the birdsong-laden field recordings which graced Linear Bells' LP An Island with warmhearted piano movements. Below this aerose cue state, deep bass drones float, everything is quiescent and somnolent. Even Teboul’s cello makes a prominent appearance and adds gravitas and weight – or better still: a counterpoint – to the helical atmosphere, multiplexing all the sunbeams and transmuting them into evening strings. Echoey crows, a chirping thrush and various finches prepare for the sundown phase. The field recording seems to be completely detached from the melodies upfront, even though the artist recorded the setup on site. Varied and pristine, it seems to be utterly free and independent of the cello-fueled acoustic formations, neither nurturing their grace, nor being harassed by the tone sequences. The simultaneity of these strata only amplifies their disconnection. A designed heterodox or a flaw in nature? I cannot give a definite answer, business as usual. Luckily, 33 Roses is a prime example of Linear Bells’ sleight of hand when it comes to the harmonious integration of textures. The previous two songs sported strong dissonances and aesthetic clefts, but here, the surfaces work in unison without becoming complaisant. Not entirely coincidentally, 33 Roses is the only proper electro-acoustic Drone track of the album, emanating the golden tint of processed guitar placentas, their slapped nylon strings towering above the sylvan fluxion. The cello is on board once more, serving as the dun-colored rhizome of rurality. Only distantly spectral near its endpoint, 33 Roses is not as clichéd as its romantic title suggests, and the much needed high plateau of the album. From this point onwards, For Your Eyes Only improves as a whole.


Up next is Believe Me, another Drone-oriented piece, but with a positively dualistic crystalline-diffuse backing riverbed. A high-plasticity field recording at a pond allows the listener to absorb the bustling crickets, close herons and flying songbirds. Not a Drone piece per se due to its prominent use of vigorous piano chords whose afterglow swirls into the Nature-embracing backdrop, it mostly resembles the second track Sketch For The Summer, but with an important twist: the rich alluvial soils of the pond scenery merge with the beguiling amicability of the piano tones whose sustain phase offers a delicately hazy vestibule to the otherwise sparklingly rufescent aura. While Softly Killed is the most progressive piece due to its shapeshifting gestalt – a glacial piano melody plays in front of a pitch-black background before seraphic string washes and Mediterranean undertones float into a euphoric climax of beatitude and rapture –, the actual centerpiece of over eight minutes is Open Air, a title that would be fitting for the majority of the presented material. The expectancy is indeed met: engaged birds chirp joyously in close proximity to an eminently forsaken and forlorn piano sequence. Linear Bells then continues to apply a great trick to extrapolate the immediacy, for he turns up the volume of the field recording which now sports clanging brazen elements akin to pots or jars. A true-bred piano arrangement at its nucleus, Open Air shows yet again the seemingly incompatible concomitance of different mood ranges, with the effervescent but definitely Honky Tonk-stricken finale Something presenting a mirthfully uplifting Italo piano melody that would be perfectly suitable in a 90’s Rave anthem of your choice. Only ennobled by aqueous droplets and clicks, this is the peculiar closer to an album that is much more experimental than its parts suggest.


For Your Eyes Only has its share of intricacies, not as an electro-acoustic Ambient album with pristine field recordings per se, but only when it is contrasted with Linear Bells’ stellar works that are mentioned throughout the review. I was hooked by David Teboul’s music the first time I heard the darkly scything Blade Runner-esque synth pads on his debut Los Angeles EP (2012), and I continued to be hooked time and again. For Your Eyes Only simultaneously shows me the reason and lets me reflect about what makes a good Linear Bells album. Firstly, this is an artist you cannot narrow down to a certain genre. Sure, his 2013 releases show tendencies and directions: the instruments are, for the time being, not as masked and covered anymore and usually recognizable, all the while there are at the same time magnanimous vestiges of processed acoustics which then morph into synth-oid flumes. Secondly, this very reason is risky and offers – as well as misses – a lot of chances simultaneously.


I am not revealing a huge secret here but only tell what is common knowledge: when an artist or group changes their path, their devoted fanbase is more often than not offended, to use an exaggerated term. Believe me, I am not offended by For Your Eyes Only, especially not since it is nearer on Teboul’s An Island than any other of his albums, bar An Island itself, naturally. The field recordings are gorgeous and rightfully cherished. In addition, the piano, guitar and cello are equally familiar and prove to be important parts of the endemics of Teboul’s works. But this time, for once, they do not work together all too well in many sections and whole tracks. The first two compositions are strangely distant and portentous. As a part-time Glitch fan myself, I do not solely rely on bubblegum harmonies and technicolor ambiences, don’t get me wrong, but Teboul's concentrated approach lacks the surprise in terms of its textures, patterns and surfaces. Coherent albums have to enchant with their melodies, and this is simply not the case here, as the motifs do not work well with the admittedly wondrous Drone ingredients. This being said, the album gives the answer to every critic’s remark: it is called For Your Eyes Only. It is a private release of a part-time anchorite, one in which Teboul gets rid off the glitz and embellishments, rather worshipping or fathoming out the effects of natural elements and common instruments. I cannot possibly pan this approach, but severely hope that Linear Bells returns to synth-heavier, hazier and drone-ier climes sooner rather than later, as these works are his greatest, in my humble opinion at least. Not coincidentally did he and Endless Melancholy aka Hidden Vibes runner Oleksiy Sakevych create one of my favorite piano-accompanied Drone tunes ever: Purple Night. I would love this to be a blueprint for the artist in the future. He can still add an alloy of change around it, right?



Further listening and reading:



Ambient Review 273: Linear Bells – For Your Eyes Only (2013). Originally published on Oct. 16, 2013 at