The Drowned Ground by Less Bells

Release date: June 16, 2023
Label: Meadows Heavy Recorders

Earlier this year I found my ears suitably gratified by the aural delights found on the album from ALL Hands_Make Light. I don’t know what it was about the drifting drones it features but it absolutely mesmerised me. I think that’s why I was drawn to Mojave duo Less Bells and their new album entitled The Drowned Ground. They happen to be signed to Kranky, which was also a good sign. Julia Carpenter and Dain Luscombe are two musicians with an impressive CV. Julie has toured with Eels and Spiritualized. Dain has composed for TV and Film and toured as keyboardist with Marjorie Fair and Bell Gardens. Living in the California desert where the Joshua Tree resides, they have incorporated coyote howls and gusts of wind recorded in the wilderness outside their studio.

Clearly capable musicians, the instruments utilised in this recording need their own special call-out. I’ve not got fine enough ears to be able to differentiate what’s what when I come to the music! But in order to create these beautiful soundscapes Julia and Dain used viola, violins, cellos, hurdy-gurdy, shahi baaja, lap steel, Omnichord and Buchla, Moog Modular, Optigan and Prophet 5 synths. Oh, and a singing saw and a pencil banjo for good measure. The album also features additional contributions from Leah Harmon (vocals) and Rachel Smith (flute, bass recorder) and the aforementioned and officially credited coyotes and murderwind.

Opening with the stunning ‘Drowned Ground’, soothing strings lap like a calm tide onto a golden beach. The elegant tones are the equal of some of the finest classical music. It pulls off the unique achievement of sounding uplifting yet utterly heart-breaking. Then ‘A Failure Of Horses’ features shimmering tones over desolate radio static creating an intense sense of fear and loss of hope. Distorted alien pings add an otherworldly atmospheric. ‘Feral Ghosts Of The Golden West’ opens with eerie yelps like trapped children trying to reach out. Droning strings and delicate percussion display an acute knowledge of dynamic as the track keeps you engaged despite the overriding atmospheric barely changing.


‘Over the Falls’ ebbs and flows with an eastern melody over heaving strings that sigh with an eternal sadness. The percussive restraint is remarkable to guide the track through peaks and valleys of volume. Ghostly voices rise up just before the track winds into a jauntier passage that borders on an Irish reel, very reminiscent of the excellent Lankum album I’ve recently gotten into. The exquisitely named ‘Frozen Charlotte Tends The Flame’ warps voices in the vein of Aphex Twin, latter day Low, or even Sigur Rós. The piece then moves into a kooky passage that hovers like a hummingbird flapping its wings in slow motion over electronic whooshes and burbles.

‘Scheele’s Green’ spends its opening moments like a slow-motion alarm, creating a strange wave of emotion as the strings and keyboards join in with peaceful drones. Voices and flutes embellish the atmospherics with more melodies as the noise elevates to a powerful crescendo of howls and screeches. Another band that Less Bells are in alignment with that I haven’t mentioned is Hammock. This is most prevalent on ‘A Half Hour With The Stars In June’ which is the loudest track on the album. Employing a more defiant level of instrumentation the deeper strings stab the soundscape as what sounds like banjo underpins the tones with urgency. Picked strings then enhance the propulsive urge before being enveloped in gorgeous rising strings. The track ends with a beautiful passage of calming voices and sweeping waves of melancholic strings.

In order to truly engage with this album, the listener has to be in the right mood. It also helps that you are in the right environment or location. I plan on donning a good pair of headphones and staring either up at a mountain, or out across waters, towards mountains, to really absorb this music. It is not to be listened to on car journeys, train rides or in an open plan office. This music is powerful and potent. It can lower heart rates and induce the most heartfelt emotions. Less Bells, that good.

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