REVIEWS / This Is Funeral Folk

Thomas Bel has entitled his latest record This Is Funeral Folk; whether the title implies a shortcut to the intended genre or a blatant means to set the tone is up to the listener.
After four listens of this record under the duress of music journalism, it has been appropriately decreed (with critical resolve) that This Is Funeral Folk is ultimately a simple case of ‘it is what it is’. Four listens at forty minutes apiece was an enduring exercise with only subtle increases in the ‘listen on listen’ retrospective quality of the record—this on top of the declining motivation of having another go to achieve further insight. Alas, I won’t get that time back, and the realisation of time being a constant conundrum brings me closer to a funeral of my own, mooring the pity.
Bel’s self-published online biography tells you that he was born in autumn (auspiciously the record was released on the last day of autumn in 2015), lives in Toulouse, France, and occasionally dances with birds at night. The aforementioned is as revealing and as inspiring as the twelve tracks that have been assembled on This Is Funeral Folk.
Whether funeral folk is an actual ‘thing’ or simply the lovechild of a depraved franc is immaterial. A brief scan of the track titles denotes a nihilistic theme, which the average punter would expect from such a record title. Beginning with ‘Veins’ and ending with ‘Veils’ and all sorts of lacunae morbidity in between, This Is Funeral Folk appears primed to attract maturing emo fans away from their declining subculture. The applied music and lyrics replicate a similar aesthetic value whilst never catching the pitch-savvy ear off-guard.
Snippets of ambience, ritual structures, and drone give the album some delineation from the electro sequencing that creates the monotonous backbone of each individual piece. The minimalism in Bel’s music reflects his aforementioned biography, and the perception of a constant simplistic theme makes it seem intended. A modest back catalogue and collaborative history shows positive links to the ambient scene with alignment to a few labels of modest note.
Thomas Bel’s cascading vocals dwell within an octave of comfort yet stagger in pitch and quality the higher they go. Whether this is an intended vibrato or inexperience makes no difference as the end-result contributes to the dark tones they exhume. Subtle piano notes, chords, and gentle guitar strumming make the odd cameo appearance within the elementary arrangements and provide slight credence to the notion of any ‘folk’ presence.
Folded liner notes accompany the disc with a set of poetic guiding principles for each song. Apropos to ‘Wolves and Witches’ for being noted as merely instrumental.
Notwithstanding all of the above, if you are partial to music in the key of nihilistic ambient folk, don’t mind a down-tempo electro feel, and are willing to accept it for what it is, This Is Funeral Folk is a slight chance for you.

(Malachy O’Brien / Heathen Harvest. June 2016. USA)

Seit "The Birds Are Still The Monarchs" (2009) ist der Mann in Toulouse seinen Weg durch dunkle Schatten und die finstre Nacht immer weitergegangen. Und hat auf seine inneren Stimmen gehört, als Seelenbruder von C. Th. Dreyers Vampyr, als Verehrer des Malers Piet Moget, bei dem die Horizontlinie zu einer nebulösen erogenen Zone wird. Bel ist ein Liebhaber bleicher Wangen und grauer Stunden. Mit einer Sonnenaversion und einem morbiden Auge, aber auch einem hellwachen für das, was ist. "Sad Folk ist Krieg" lässt daran keinen Zweifel. Hier raunt er wieder, zu pochender Drummachine, düsterem Synthiesound, fatalistischen Cymbalschlägen oder trister Gitarre, als Troubadour der Finsternis von der Schwärze in seinen Adern, von leeren und kalten Tagen, verschütteten Gefühlen, enttäuschter Liebe. Mit 'Lo-Fi Love' taucht Bel in die Joy Division-Zone. Mit trotzigem "I remain fearless, I remain hopeless, I remain sleepless, I remain heartless" bekennt sein Alter ego sich zu seinen Narben und zu Hexen und Wölfen als Weggefährten. Ihm ist bewusst, dass einen, der nur Trauer und Düsternis, Schweigen und Gewalt sein eigen nennt, eine einzige Träne zu Fall bringen könnte. Seine Zerrissenheit geht schließlich so weit, dass er um Aufschub fleht: "Let me be your sickness, let me be your darkness." Lass mich wenigstens... Aber wen fleht er da an? Eine Sie? Den dunklen Master unter einer schwarzen Sonne?

(Rigobert Dittmann / Bad Alchemy. January 2016. ALL)

Uit Toulouse komt deze Thomas Bel. Ik had nog nooit van hem gehoord maar hij ‘verblijdt’ de mensheid sinds 2009 met ‘sad folk en funeral electronics’ (zijn eigen woorden). ‘Writes about life & darkness. Occasionnaly dances with birds at night’, komen we nog over hem te weten op zijn website. En hij is geboren in de herfst. Uiteraard.
“This Is Funeral Folk” (12 songs, 40 minuten) is een cd-r release zoals de meeste van zijn fysieke releases tot nu toe. ‘Echte’ albums zijn “The Birds Are Still The Monarchs” (een cd uit 2009) en “Innerly” (een LP/cd format uit 2012), beiden op het het Annexia label.
We horen op “This Is Funeral Folk” echo’s van cold wave en dark wave en vooral veel dark folk (of apocalyptic folk zo u wil) met gitaar, keyboards, af en toe een geprogrammeerde beat (“The Future Of Evil” en opener “Veins”) en vocals met erg veel galm op. Er staan vooral rustige, intieme nummers op het schijfje met tamelijk lome keyboardaanslagen en ook een paar die iets ritmischer zijn. “Witches” en “Wolves” zijn dan weer twee ambiente instrumentals waar de treurnis vanaf druipt.
Thomas Bel heeft een voorliefde voor extreem zwartgallige en depressieve teksten waarin woorden als dark(ness), cold(ness) en sick(ness) meermaals terugkeren. En ook die, death en kill. Songs met titels als “Death Interlude”, “Solid Black” en “The First Tear You Cry Will Fucking Kill Me” zeggen genoeg. Deze gekwelde ziel brengt zijn lyrics in een zangstijl vol tristesse en ook niet gespeend van enig pathos. “Lo-Fi Love” (zie lyrics hieronder) is een van de markantste songs en is hier een mooi voorbeeld van. Nog een topper is “The Future Of Evil”. Veel tekst is er niet. Kort maar krachtig: ‘Sadness is mine, darkness is mine, this is a song for you to die. Silence is mine, violence is mine, this is a song for you to die.’ Het verhaaltje mag u er zelf bij verzinnen. Mijn favoriete song is de vlotte en bijzonder sfeervolle opener “Veins”, een van de meer up-tempo songs.
“This Is Funeral Folk” werd een mooi dark wave en dark folk plaatje van deze zwaar melancholische en morbide treurwilg maar vrolijk word je er dus allerminst van.


(Henk Vereecken / Dark Entries. December 2015. BE)

By the time you finish playing this record all the leaves outside will have fallen, all the trees will be mute and the streets will be empty. This is what gets played when you are completely alone and happy to be so; when you look out your window over the canal and see the city lights drowning in it a slight smile of recognition graces your lips. As the wind whips up across your field of vision you watch mutely from behind the glass.
Maybe you’ve heard Thomas Bel before and maybe you haven’t; you’re going to remember who he is after hearing these twelve tracks and that I guarantee. Some moments in life demand to be put down in sound otherwise they’ll be lost forever; our composer has many things on his mind but sunny dispositions and cheerful surroundings are not on that list. No, he dwells in a silent and solitary realm where memories do not fade and pain is ever present just behind a person’s eyes.
I knew his work to be primarily of an ambient nature (he has another record coming out on Invisible Birds so pay attention) but over the course of his last EP and a digital single he has shifted course. Out into darker waters he drifts, into the deeper and more remote regions of song craft he ventures; have no worries, his style is direct and to the point. You don’t ever have to wonder what the reasoning is behind any of these, it’s really quite simple:
Despair. Sadness. Abandonment. Regret.
Thomas’ pieces are kept on the shorter side but his arrangements are first rate while the playing he demonstrates is all his own. Literally. No one else came in and walked him through this process, he did it by himself, probably in secret. If anybody knew why they were hearing those mournful notes out of his guitar through the walls then they opted to remain mute… hidden in his tower with only the shadows to keep him company.
With little in the way of equipment and even less in the way of production capabilities, Thomas Bel proves once more that if you have talent and the vision to see it through then you can overcome just about anything. Therein lies the irony as ‘This is Funeral Folk’ is not about redemption or zeal or much of anything besides surrender to -and the acceptance of- a hateful fate. Study the cover of this release if you require further convincing but don’t linger too long because the day is fading fast.

(Peter Marks / Santasangre. November 2015. PL)