Linear Bells
An Island






Linear Bells, the Ambient project of Nantes-based musician David Teboul is back, and it didn’t take an awful lot of time. A few months after the release of the 80’s synth-laden heaviness of his five-track Los Angeles EP, he returns, this time on the Swedish music cassette (!) label Zeon Light with an album of seven tracks called An Island. And this time, Teboul does many a thing differently than before, broadening his freely flowing Ambient style that merges synthetic elements with pianos, guitars and violins. Recorded after a recent trip to the Chausey Islands, he took several local elements of these islands with him in the form of field recordings that were nowhere to be found on his previous releases. And these field recordings enhance the music tremendously, for the recording device seems to be a very capable one, at least to my ears, providing vividness and clarity to most of the songs. An Island can be rightly called a drone album, another assertion that is surprising for me; the once purposefully rudimentary synth pad layers on the Los Angeles EP can be found on one single track on this album, but the remaining skits rely on heavily modulated and filtered guitar textures that are merged in such a way that they cause a blurry but totally attractive monotony, and although these stylistic peculiarities have been done by other artists before, it is the cinematic approach – and occasional calamity – of Teboul that add a unique viewpoint to an already fully occupied genre. You can listen to An Island for free at Zeon Light’s Bandcamp page. Let’s see in greater detail what has changed for the better and the worse in the following paragraphs.


Blue Black And Red is the auspicious point of departure and the shortest track at the same time. The sound of Linear Bells has definitely changed, and I couldn’t at first believe the sound waves that reached my ears: warm, intimate sunbeam drones that encapsulate a soothing, care-free tranquility. After a few seconds, Teboul’s signature instrument is heard for the first time. Scattered piano droplets played in higher regions boost the majesty of the track with their crystalline structure. The biggest surprise, however, is without a doubt the proper field recording of birds whose echoey chirping adds a welcome plasticity to the track. These curlicues were the missing points on the Los Angeles EP, now they are prominently featured on this album, making the EP sound almost clinically sterile and hyper-polished. In the given context, I don’t consider this a disadvantage, though, for the glaring and rather dark 80’s synth pads can only be punchy, crisp and dominant in quiet surroundings. Blue Black And Red sounds nothing like it. The superimposition of warm drones, chirping birds and dispensed melancholic piano notes make this a terrific gateway to the depicted island, and the cherubic yet slightly gloomy synth swirls which mark the end of the intro track are the only remnants of the Los Angeles EP (whose particularities, on a side note, are resurrected at a later point on this album). A terrific first track! The title-lending An Island is next and features more bird-related field recording goodness, but adds gently torrid violin strings and glinting bells to the setting, providing both a sublime solemnity as well as a feeling of happiness. The music of Ulrich Schnauss would come to mind … if there wasn’t a perniciously rustic siren-like synth loop in the background, functioning as a counteracting device. Luckily, its intertwining with the golden shimmering piano chords and the convivial electric guitars – or similarly tweaked synth strings respectively – doesn’t take over. This ode to the Chausey Islands encapsulates happiness and contentment, but these feelings aren’t presented in an exuberant way. Teboul relies more on the cinematic approach. Yet another sumptuous tune.


Black Sand moves into darker territories, offering a welcome counterpoint. It is based on the quavering static noise-like haze of a long sustained drone, eerie screeches of an electric guitar and a three-note melody on a reverberated acoustic guitar. The guitars become blurry when Teboul comes up with a presumably free-flowing improvisation, all the while the trembling pulses of a monotonous synth pad can be heard. Recordings of waves enter the mix as well as one of the punchiest pianos I have ever encountered. Thankfully there’s enough headroom for the piano to work effectively. The song ends with a fulminant violin drone whose loudness pushes everything else to the background, letting the song end on a highly danger-evoking note. I don’t know what to make of this track. Its ingredients are all well integrated, and I applaud an expedition into darker territories, but it’s curious to me that the beginning and the end are so entirely acidic and threatening while the middle section inherits the coziness of the two previous tracks. Whatever the conceptual reasons might be behind these decisions, I am fond of the punchy piano and the hazy beginning that transports a short feeling of mystique. I would have wished for this track to stay on that path, though. My wish is indeed fulfilled with the next track Downtown Teenagers whose base frame consists of the aforementioned haziness, but it’s a friendly, mesmeric version of a haze with fragile drone layers, high-pitched scintillae and a gorgeous landspout in the background. This track evokes so many stylistic similarities to artists like Tim Hecker, Growing and Chihei Hatakeyama that I am definitely impressed: the concretive piano sprinkles and the carefully interwoven acoustic guitar riffs create a moiré that lies like a veil over this proper Ambient track that is shimmering organically. It’s as if Teboul watched the bustling scenery from above a mountain, being safe and secure, but going downtown nonetheless at the end of the track as the short field recording interlude of a city scene implies. My favorite track of the album due to its coherence and fragility!


Running After Miss Kitten should please fans of Teboul’s Los Angeles EP, as the heaviness of the multilayered synth pads returns together with that 80’s feeling. For the first three minutes, the slowly meandering four-note melody provides the warmth and welcome instability of analogue synths until the melody remains in a looped monotonous state which is enhanced by the glitzy swirls of seraphic square drops that mimic a vestigial bit-crushing melody but without the sharpness, as it is rather limewashed. A long recording of a hectically speaking guy is thrown into the mix, and although it seems to be pointless at first, it doesn’t actually destroy the mood despite its clarity, due to the louder volume level of the synths and their relevant swirls. When I previously wrote that these specific synth structures need to be presented in a quiet, dry surrounding, I thought of Running After Miss Kitten already on which Linear Bells does the opposite and places them in a lively setting. The dissent between the twofold forces – the hectic field recording and the concentrated sereneness of the 80’s synths – cannot be solved, but the track works surprisingly well and provides another contrariety to the Linear Bells EP … by using its very ingredients. Brave, I say! The beautifully titled Solar Flare In My Mouth merges the acoustic guitar bonfire atmosphere of Boards Of Canada’s Satellite Anthem Icarus by providing a similar rustically texturized stringed loop with mellow bass drones, the glacial sustain of static noise and a slowly growing electric guitar melody that provides a hypnotic background wash. The second half of the track moves into overdrive land with the incessantly featured melody being bit-crushed and overdriven. It maintains its beauty, but sounds much more dark and potentially uneasy all the while the already familiar version of the very same melody remains in the background. The outro An Airplane And A Cloud, again beautifully titled, is the most remarkable track on this album. It doesn’t rely on any part of the local formula; maybe only by accident. The stunningly peaceful opening of intendedly quiescent drones provides the most fragile moment of the whole album, providing both tranquility and sensuousness for almost three minutes until the track continues in an awesome style with the slow introduction of colorful, brightly-lit synth strings which outshine the remaining bits of the track. These strings pass several filters, thus sounding metallic or spiky at times before the track fades out for good.


Linear Bells’ An Island is a beautiful album that is torn between the various styles Teboul (re-)discovered for himself, but still consistent enough to not fall into the trap of pleasing everybody with an expanded range of styles. The cinematic approach luckily remains a bold factor of the album, but its utter importance wanes due to equally significant additions like nature-and-town field recordings. Especially the first few tracks of the album provide beautiful wood and creek tableaus. And finally, the intermixture of synthetic strings with real instruments like violins, acoustic guitars and pianos is even more important than on the Los Angeles EP. There is one element that I consider particularly successful, and it’s the hardest to achieve: the multitextured drones. While this kind of music exists since the late 90’s and rose to fame after the beginning of the millennium, it was and still remains astonishing to me how beautiful a collection of blurry, hazy, pulsating and gurgling guitar or synth strings can sound when they are whizzing and whirring in the background. If a field recording of gushing wind is added to the scenery, as it happens in Downtown Teenagers, the effect is mind-blowing to me. Even though there are no distinct melodies perceptible, the elegancy and raw power of these drones make Ambient music so great to me. Teboul’s album puts the focus away from the 80’s synths and their related dryness and exchanges both for a lusher, more resplendent setup. The short moments of alienating eeriness aren’t too well integrated into the mix because of the loudness with which the elements are played, but they are too few to really annoy the listener or degrade the experience. The album is available as a digital download and in the form of a music cassette at Zeon Light.





Ambient Review 077: Linear Bells – An Island (2012). Originally published on May 30, 2012 at