Musical collaborations are a cultural grey area that often results in far more missteps than ideal pairings (the oft-cited Lulu atrocity should be evidence enough). On occasion, though, the correct elements of musical co-ventures are melded together to create something pretty spectacular, as is the case in the inimitable meeting of British folk-rock outfit Trembling Bells and Americana folk treasure Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy aka Will Oldham.
The resulting The Marble Downs came to fruition after a string of collaborations and kindred interests. Oldham’s warbled chirp balances Celtic jester and indie troubadour, a stunning effect when paired with Trembling Bells’ rolling, Scottish folk ballads. The Marble Downs’ orchestral sprawl and theatrical lyrics are ready-made for a lovelorn musical, the give and take between Trembling Bells’ singer Lavinia Blackwall and Billy reading like the angst-y notebooks of a Chaucer-esque troubadour if he were drop-kicked into the 21st century, developed a habit for Belle and Sebastian, and fell in love with an indie songstress.
Opener “I Made a Date (With an Open Vein)” backdrops brimful instrumentation with morose lyrics as Oldham croons about committing suicide to find a lost love, only to be predictably disappointed. Paired with drummer and founder Alex Neison’s improvisational mastery, The Marble Downs is an unexpectedly gorgeous concoction of uncanny musical stylings. For instance, “Ferrari in a Demolition Derby” balances the modern-day lyrical topic with traditional chamber court music that beautifully fades into its polar opposite, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with a Little Longing”, a fuzzy, Krautrock-driven pop ballad. This streak of contrast ripples throughout the album, creating an aural excursion that is quite rare on contemporary records. Standout ballad “Love Is a Velvet Noose” encapsulates this rare grandiosity of The Marble Downs: otherworldly vocals, ornate melodies, and the quirky, sinister touch of Oldham and Neison’s artistic prowess.
It’s an album overflowing with enough compositional styles to boggle the mind of a novice music history student, but it’s an exquisite tangle of samplings, woven together masterfully by Oldham and Neison.
Essential Tracks: ”I Made a Date (With an Open Vein)”, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with a Little Longing”, and “Love Is a Velvet Noose”