The French label Soft was set up by David Teboul, who we know as Linear Bells. Seven months into its infancy, the non-profit label, who release experimental, ambient and drone music, have just released Teboul’s The Stars Will Shine – a monolithic double album with a running time of 147 minutes.
As expected, Teboul starts slow, with swelling cellos and light pops of static. Steeped in low cloud,the instruments never really rise above, instead preferring to lay, head down, in nature’s graveyard. The Stars Will Shine has a lovely, ornate feel to it; a rusty, iron gate that leads to the back of a churchyard, the derelict, stone-washed white fading to grey. A bank of trees line the street, resting outside, and the only music is the tranquil, poetic music of a quiet, rural place that has its fair share of stormy weather. It lies underneath the sunshine surface like cracks in the pavement, barely concealed but there nonetheless, like the quiet presence of a lower drone.
“San Francisco Broke My Heart” squeals with the sound of anguished strings, recoiling under the solemnity of heartache. Its dull, despondent tone is a sullen cloud, and the instruments lend their natural, organic weight beautifully. They feel alive, although they are downcast. And with this cooler pitch comes a cooler clime. In fact, the music drifts into frozen scenery when it should be sizzling in mid June. Sunshine should be staying rather than straying, but there isn’t much light; we’ve had the tan before (Summer Haze).
Seasons have a strong say, a strong voice, in ambient music. Sometimes, as on “Beach Ruins”, the music sits under heavy, raging clouds that never rain. Elsewhere, the somber timbre of the cello, so close in pitch to the human voice, dapples the ground with its rainy notes. Seagulls flock, but the music is out of season and the vacant harbour is a cold ghost of itself. The light drizzle of static sounds like rainfall, too. Linear Bells, we know, is an expert in ambient music. He knows how to develop the music; they’re not just notes anymore, they’re far-flung, spacious sanctuaries that slowly push you away from reality. He does things differently, breaking away from ambient normality, rocking the boat gently. This can be heard in “Run”, where heavy breathing mists up the music. The cello creeps in and gives the music a darker feel, perhaps running from someone. This isn’t exactly something you’d put on your mp3 player for your daily workout, though. It is, however, something you’d take with you on a long walk, where you can give yourself and your thoughts some space, some room to breathe. These recordings provide not only an audio backdrop, but a visual backdrop during a scenic, coastal walk.
“Bring Me The Mountains” is another stunning track, but this time the music has left its sullen enclosure. The tone is as dry as a dehydrated desert, but the atmosphere is still soothing. The drones are fluid, but the music is always grounded by its shy layer of static and the lower, gravel-grazing tone of the cello. Muddy progressions creep through the fog of a guitar, as strong as the roar of a wave. After this comes the 25 minute “Too Young To Die”, where Teboul teams up with ambient musician Porya Hatami. The stars shine as we gaze upwards. Yes, we are solitary in this space, but we’re never truly alone as the milky, dusty band of our Galaxy streaks across the night sky, itself just a speck in the cosmos. “Waterfalls” is almost half an hour – a relaxing haven where birds sing and troubles flutter away on the breeze – but the final track, “l’oiseau” really takes the breath away.
The Stars Will Shine is first class ambient music. It isn’t done yet, though. The album also comes with the 21 minute Robots, Orchestra & Tones. Icy, shimmering tones come to clear the air, and a drone splashes lightly against the cooler atmosphere. Steadily, the temperature rises, as does the pitch. They thaw until they are smooth, tonal sculptures. Linear Bells has given us beautiful ambient music in the past, but never has it been so thoughtful, so placid and so evocative. The stars will always shine, and with Linear Bells in such fine form the future is shaping up to be just as bright for ambient music. (James Catchpole)