TL;DR REVIEW: THE DIVING BELL UTILIZES ARPEGGIATING ACOUSTICS AND SURREAL ELECTRIC RIFFS UNDER POLYPHONIC VOCAL STRUCTURES AND STUNNING HARMONIES TO CREATE MASTERFUL ARRANGEMENTS.
Those who complain that folk-rock music is boring need look no further than Behold The Bitter Monument for something new. Rather than a traditional backing band over a strummed guitar, The Diving Bell utilizes arpeggiating acoustics and surreal electric riffs under polyphonic vocal structures and stunning harmonies to create masterful arrangements. This is truly a collaborative album and as the simple beauty of Clare Hendershot's vocals sail over husband Steve's captivating warble it demands an active listener.
There is something orchestral about these songs. They swell and wane so effortlessly that even the drums are never constant. The individual parts are quite involved yet the songs never feel over saturated and there isn't a single wasted note. Be it the intensity of a single cello note to begin Belly Of The Beast You Love or the snare hit that kicks off the banjo to counter the electronic intro of Pacific Pearl Co. 1869, the little details are just part of what delights on Behold The Bitter Monument.
The songs are clever but they are also really good. The vocal breakdown and subsequent build on Holy Roman Empire is a pure work of art and the gentle beauty of album opener We Came We Conquered is the perfect indie melody to catch your attention. Choosing to spend much of the album discussing a proto-submarine from the 19th century and Rome during the reign of Caesar provides another level of intrigue to these already fascinating songs. The singing frequently references the lyrics as the hushed refrain of "south and south and south" goes on and on to show the endlessness of the sea while Steve's voice sounds almost underwater in Pacific Pearl Co. 1869 as he is "breathing on the ocean floor." The combination of modern sounds with century old instruments makes the line "that was 1869 in spring 2001" feel self referential in an album this well thought out.
Bottom line this is an instant classic for me. The melodies demand your attention, the arrangements go above and beyond, and the vocals are unbelievable. The lyrics look back at history and offer interesting perspective. Although Steve laments that there is "nothing to explore" on the opening track, I would argue that The Diving Bell has explored some breathtaking new sounds here and I can't wait to hear more. Listen and purchase on their website.