Benjamin Reynolds aka Trelawney, is the possessor of a remarkable voice. In these days of homogenised, tuned and tweaked voices his is one of those rare examples of characterful and distinctive pipes that demand you listen, that can hardly fail to catch your attention as something extra-ordinary.
I have no idea whether he likes or loathes comparisons and mine are hardly original and they are offered merely as a means of locating him in that great spectrum that is ‘music’. There is a sumptuous visceral nature to his sound, a gladioli-waving theatricality, an authenticity so sadly lacking to much output these days, an emotional quality that comes from the gut rather than the throat. In this respect you can hear echoes of the late Billy Mackenzie, wafts of Scott Walker and hints of best-period Bowie (sorry I know everyone is referencing the sadly missed Messiah these days, but there we are…).
United Downs is (at least for me) the long-awaited new offering after a couple of years absence from the Bishop, and released today, as I write this, via the Bandcamp site (limited edition physical and limitless download versions). It is released on Since Records Began Records, where you will also find the rather magnificent recent album Swimming from his buddies Tessellators and the back catalogue from the sadly missed Hundred Handed with whom Mr Reynolds sang; I am indebted to my dear chum Mr Peebles (he of Bravo Brave Bats) for introducing me to all of this many a-year ago.
The new album sees Mr Reynolds teaming up with five other fine fellows, Kate Knox (Piano and Vocals), Alex Norman (Drums), AJ Dehany (Bass and Vocals), Nicholas Newman (Guitar and Vocals), Dom Lethbridge (Synth and Production), and together they build a muscular but controlled soundscape into which that voice nestles perfectly.
There is no need for me to go over the Cornish-ness riven through this set, important though it is, you can get that ‘dreckly’ from the West Briton interview so, rather, a few comments on this notable, satisfying and glorious collection of songs.
Truth be told there isn’t a track here that, in its own particular way, doesn’t deserve a place on the album. Sometimes, even for a band you like, an album can give you too much of a good thing; you like what they do but eight or nine tracks of the same thing you like can give you indigestion. Here there’s a golden thread running through it but the variety and changes make it like being in a house where all the rooms are different but still part of the same building (need to brush up on my metaphors I think).
I am especially taken by, and appreciative of, the drum, guitar and bass work respectively of Messrs Norman, Newman and Dehany whose work frequently propels the songs along as with opener Clockwatching and closer The Falcon to the Falconer, the two longest tracks here (not that all the playing isn’t of the best quality).
It’s great to see Under a Black Flag (from the Beast of the Black Heath EP from 2012) getting a rework (I think!) with its dark, vaguely threatening overtones and shanty-esque chorus and some especially tasty guitar.
Title track, United Downs, perhaps the most heartfelt song, is wistful, and redolent of Shipbuilding in its simplicity and directness, Ben’s voice up front and untreated, emotional and sadly reflective.
What’s the Rush, an early released track from the album, is the voice of an early middle-aged man (sorry!) looking back on those things of his youth and finding a-new, deeper values than the hurly-burly of the urban existence. This is the sort of sentiment that you find in many of the songs in this set, the sounds of a man re-appraising his life, and values and where he has come from.
A peerless voice and a band that knows just what its doing makes United Downs something of a triumph. I so wanted this to be brilliant and, lawks-a-mercy, it is just that. Hie thee to Bandcamp and buy it now; satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.