The self-titled album Tremelo Bones from Tremelo Bones is a blend of folk, surf and the spaghetti western country-vibe of the American southwest. There’s a strong Jon Langford influence in the tone of the album but with more of a folk influence.
The first half of the album is a little uneven. “Making Angels” is an up-tempo opener, entering with a force of organs and strummed guitar in 6/8 time. There’s some mellow clarinet that is featured and answers the vocal lines and evokes Branford Marsalis from the “Nothing Like The Sun” (Sting) era. It’s a strong opener but sounds very different than everything that follows (which isn’t a bad thing).
“Honey Angels” starts a group of songs that have more of the surf and southwestern U.S. influence in the guitar tones, which glide over some reverbed harmonica. The song also has an astute slide guitar solo. Unfortunately on this and the two following tracks, the drums are unsteady throughout which tend to detract from the experience. There’s some clashing with the bongos throughout too making the song feel very busy. Still, “Hunting Grounds” has some great guitar counter melodies and tremolo chords that crash down, and Lunar Dreams has an Elvis Costello tinge to the vocals that are supported by some nice harmonies. The song has a George Harrison-like melody and harmonic progression that culminates into a soulful guitar solo.
The second half of the album is the strongest with the two best songs being “Country Terrain” and “Universe Envy.” “Country Terrain” starts out with a confident vocal over a strummed acoustic guitar. There’s a Nick Drake-like quality to the melody and phrasing of the words. “Universe Envy” has some melancholic violin and a driving rhythm section. There’s a grunge-y build up into the chorus that also features some excellent layered vocals. The violin break is strong and features two simultaneous melodies that find counterpoints to each other and lift the song up. The song ends with some excellent feedback that almost evokes a distorted didgeridoo.
“Enough No More” starts out as an acoustic ballad in front with a soundscape backdrop of organ and guitar feedback swells that pass in and out of tonality. It works and serves as a smart prelude for when the rest of the band drops in for a bottleneck guitar solo. The song keeps the energy up throughout and ends with a nice nod to “Unchained Melody.” “Broken Hands” is an intimate acoustic number. The vocals have an Elvis Costello-like quality and are accompanied by some solid fingerpicked acoustic guitar accompaniment.The album ends with two instrumentals of two of the surf tracks, which unfortunately don’t add to the overall experience of the album and feel a bit distracting.
Overall, Tremelo Bones tends to find strength in the songs that are stripped down and based around the acoustic guitar. The electric guitar work is smart and when the band is supportive, the songs really click, but not all of the songs land where they may have intended. Still, the vocals are strong and lyrics are haunting and paint some interesting pictures along the way.
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