REVIEWS / To dye every night

We first came across the work of Thomas Bel through a compilation track he provided to the beloved ambient label Time Released Sound. This French musician has quietly hand-fabricated his own releases, an aesthetic that both TRS and Invisible Birds also share. To Dye Every Night is something of a personal soundtrack for an emotional landscape of melancholy and introspection. The materials are spare but wholly elegant - field recordings of a rain storm, guitar, and voice. That rain storm is recorded in such a way to capture the smacking textures of water and mud. So sharp are some of these aqueous plonks and drips that Bel gives the impression that these recordings were made at near freezing temperatures. Bel's elliptical guitar picking cycles through a desolate melody whose mood completely fits those rainy, miserablist field recordings, and the slow, funereal piece is more in keeping with the latter day Earth recordings although the melodies certainly align themselves with the Slint / Mogwai / Codeine sensibility. Very slowly, Bel's voice rises out of the rain and mud, presenting itself as a singular, tonal chord (obviously looped, unless he's mastered circular breathing to an extent that's beyond even Pandit Pran Nath and La Monte Young!). It's a beautifully lilting piece of maudlin, super stripped down mope-rock meets ambient soundscaping. Limited to just 100 copies and hand assembled by the fine folks at Invisible Birds.

(Jim Haynes / Aquarius records. July 2013. US)

How much can one phrase express. In the lexicon of conversation's myriad possibilities just how much can you infer or intone from a few words or, in this case, notes. This is what Thomas Bel is endeavoring to answer for us and he does so in a very elegant manner. The artwork for his release shows a desolate, abandoned back country road which is framed by a blurred treeline and then underpinned with a series of weathered tire tracks. It is as though he's brought us to this place in order to say that this is where everything leads. The decisions, the minute alterations in the course of one's life will bring you to this place... but what is this place?

It is a realm of introspection, a landscape unaltered by the designs and whims of marketers and ad men. An environment wrought out of the tough, sinewy fibers which make up a person's character. Now I mulled Bel's newest over for some time, quite a lot longer than I expected. People may say, hey its only one track. Oh, but what a track it is. Equal parts Kubrick and concrete. Imagine the opening montages of 2001 set to this and you'll begin to understand just how much range and muscular grace is to be found when you play this. The one, and I do mean one thing to remember when you're listening to To Dye Every Night is that unfortunately it does come to an end.

The first few times I let it out to play, this one pushed me out of the room. It is hard to convey in mere words but there's a confrontational centerpiece to what he's composed here which is in some way quite subconsciously disturbing. If one must try to connect things to what they have heard before so that madness does not ensue then here is the only attachment I could find. Coil's Astral Disaster album is in the barest sense all that I've come across previously that could hold its own against the tsunami-like onslaught of Thomas Bel. There's just something in the ebbs and flows of his work which really feels enveloping and gives you a sense that the torch has been passed.

Maybe I'm just a bit touched myself to see this sort of interwoven mosaic and I hope he appreciates the mention but his own material is ghostly, gaunt and wildly lush all at the same time. You go into this picking at barbs of melody yet by the time you've crossed the 33 minute mark, everything has melded together into an organic composite of multiple levels which sing and scream in equal measure. It is as though a concerto has been fashioned out of absolute nothingness. Stunning.

(Peter Marks / Santa Sangre. June 2013. PL)

Music by Thomas Bel has found its way to here before - see Vital Weekly 663 - when I thought he hadn't found his own voice yet. Now, a few years later, I hear something new from him, a work that was originally recorded live June 21st 2011 - which is actually exactly two years ago from the day this was written - but 're-arranged and edited' in May of this year. It's one long piece, of thirty-three minutes and thirty-three seconds, and it sounds like an outdoor concert: rain is pouring down (no doubt on tape and not live), while Bel plays his guitar in a very minimal way. I never know - not being a guitarist myself - if this actually played, or one of those loop devices, but it's surely very minimal with a bunch of small changes. As the piece evolves there is the addition of some feedback like sounds, and the guitar - now indeed looped - doubles and triples. Blues music? Yes, it could be. It has that dark, laidback Americana blues feeling of desperation and solitude, even when it's brought to a mighty crescendo in which all air is sucked into the sound effects before its escape towards the end. A fine good solid piece, as dark perhaps as the Nozaki one, but with less light and more despair. In both cases: if you like Machinefabriek or William Basinski, then this is surely worth checking out.

(Frans de Waard / Vital Weekly. June 2013. NL)