Local folk-rockers Warm the Bell released new album You are the Sun earlier this year in one of the most under-hyped campaigns of all time.
Which is 1) awesome because too many people make way too big of a deal of too many albums that are mediocre at best.
And 2) sad, because in a sea of mediocre albums, You are the Sun is formidable. (You know, in the way that something jangley and sunny and tinged with bittersweet nostalgia yet somehow still exuberant can be formidable.)
Photo by Jeff Knorr
But, from the launch of lead track, “Little bird,” it’s apparent that this is more than ‘60s-reminscent folk. The harmonies, the unhurried guitars, the percussive rattle, the way the vocals evolve into a round by the song’s end — yes. Definitive ‘60s. But there’s also indie-rock savvy. “Now I know,” loping and breezy, is suffused with a nostalgia both personal and universal. The lyrics skip light as stones over the layered guitars, but there’s ballast tucked in between the verses.
Sean Robbins and Vickie Burick are a well-matched pair of vocalists. Their voices are both easy, suggested long drives, scenic panoramas and a faded Polaroid aesthetic that’s as familiar as it is wistful.
“Country Fair” is among the album’s sweetest offerings. The song jogs through a happy-day checklist, it’s upbeat melody studded with cowbell. “Brigid’s Song,” which follows, contains the sharpest pang. But the slow waltz, with its seductive sway, is a showcase of delicious minor chords. The offhand prettiness of Burick’s vocal can not be overstated.
“Big Love” may or may not have been penned in tribute to Asheville’s festival of the same name. Either way, its lush arrangement — though culling psychedelic and new wave influences — is decidedly modern. “Not Enough,” on the other hand, recalls The Mamas and the Papas (up until the gorgeously garage-y, fuzzed out guitars around the two-minute mark).
“It’s really cold in here / I think I’ll warm it up with some beer/and with sad thoughts of you, my dear,” goes “Cold in March.” It’s a stand out track. The doo-wop-style background vocals brighten what could be a sad song, but isn’t. Like all of Warm the Bell’s songs, there’s a shoe gaze inclination, but it’s tempered with sweet harmonies. Equally potent is the use orchestration, like on the achingly dusky and longing-saturated “The Edge of the Night.” That song should be accompanied by a symphony. (The Asheville symphony has yet to pair up with local indie rock bands for a concert: it’s an idea whose time has come. And it should start with this song.)
The title track, at nearly seven minutes, is one of the album’s longest. It’s also a song of movements, from the charged and spacey opening to the darkly-galloping middle to the moment when all the reverb and static falls away and there’s the tender refrain, “Love’s the greatest thing I know.” Even the biggest Scrooge would be hard-pressed to make it to that part of the song and not want to hug a puppy or something.
Unfortunately, Warm the Bell doesn’t have any upcoming shows booked. Fortunately, You are the Sun is available on CD Baby and can be streamed on the band’s Facebook page.
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