Landing: Bells in New Towns (El Paraiso Records, 2018)
There are aural landscapes where angels are present. Sometimes the angels just aren’t going to take it anymore and their angelic choir veers off into a beautiful angst. Landing’s Bells in New Towns is just such an angelic project. There is an aggressive energy in places on this album, but the band never sheds that layered, angelic vibe. Frenetic and yet serene, Bells in New Towns might be Landing’s best outing and, given their incredible catalog, that says a lot. They showcase their brilliance when it comes to pop structures but never shy away from their more experimental side here.
“Nod” is an explosive beginning to Bells in New Towns which is only tempered by Adrienne Snow’s dulcet, honeyed vocals. The album begins with the quick pulse of electronic sounds. Then wind pulls the listener in as the drums and fuzzed out bass thump into the mix. Guitars melodically play these incredibly interesting lines and then the whole band lines up for an aggressive moment. There is a complexity and sophistic sonic sculpting in “Nod” that acts as an introduction for this album’s intricacies. Aaron Snow also brings his vocal talent to the track, playing a foil to Adrienne Snow’s brilliance. “By Two” begins with a drone that is eventually accompanied by picked acoustic guitar. This is eventually joined by bass, guitar, and Adrienne Snow’s vocals. She really sings two parts as they are mixed differently, and it brings a great depth to the song. Guitars glisten throughout, as subtle layers continue to be added as the track progresses. The layered vocals become ghostlier and hypnotizing as “By Two” comes to a climax.
“Gravitational VII” and its counterpart “Gravitational VIII” act as interludes on Sides A and B of this album. “Gravitational VII” is this gorgeous ambient piece with layers of guitar panned right or left, creating a depth to the piece. “Gravitational VII” blends without pause into “Bright” with its driving bass and drums, sci-fi synth, glittering guitar layers, and Aaron Snow’s slightly recessed, fuzz tinged vocals. It’s really hard to convey in words how this sort of structured piece really draws you in, but there are all of these great changes and small touches that really show off Landing’s ability to create experimental pop with depth and finesse. “Secret” rounds out the first half of the album and this side A finale is phenomenal! Playing with volume, movement, texture, and ethereal moments, “Secret” is a breathtaking tour de force. Guitars build a spacey wall of sound through which Adrienne Snow’s vocals float, recessed in the mix. I know I haven’t mentioned him by name yet, but there is something special going on here with Daron Gardner on bass as well. It’s one of those songs that really takes me aback and I sink into the brilliance of how the band is gelling, if that makes sense.
“Fallen Name” opens side B and returns Landing the brilliant pop structures reminiscent of their work on the Taeppe EP. I can’t help but feel that Aaron Snow channels Alan Sparhawk with a tad of Neil Young on vocals here. Adrienne Snow sings the chorus and, as usual, her vocals are just striking. “Wait or Hide” is about as rock and roll one gets with Landing. Distorted guitars play a melodic line while spacey synths whirl in the background. Driving bass and drums enhance the urgency in the track. The hook is infectious and induces head bobbing. “Gravitational VIII” sits in the middle of side B and is a sci-fi, synth heavy experimental piece. Notes echo as a shaker shakes in time. Other synth voices come in and out of the mix, and, as I’ve said before, shows why this band are the layermeisters. At every turn, this album inspires and surprises in all the right ways and the interludes are no exception. “Gravitational VIII” ends with guitar and then gives way to “Trace” without pause.
“Trace” has two acoustic guitar lines playing off one another while Adrienne Snow’s vocals sit between them. The piece is subtle, quiet, and peace inducing. There are light drums as one gets toward the end of the composition. “Second Sight” is the finale to the album and clear refers back to their 2016 album Third Sight. Here we once again have Aaron Snow channeling some Neil Young on vocals but brought back into the mix and more subdued. He even does a melody track with his own voice. There is a cinematic quality to this final piece, with violin-twinged guitar, sparkling melodies, subtle drums, and variations in textural moments. It is a perfect ending to a great record.
Bells in New Towns is ten tracks that move from layered, blissed out moments to intense pop brilliance to enthralling experimental ambience. While this variation sounds like each should be on different albums, what makes Landing so brilliant is their ability to take such interesting difference and weave it all together into layers of a cogent whole. Bells in New Towns is a masterstroke of ambient, pop, dreampop experimentalism and should be missed by no one!
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