Dusted Magazine on Sandra Bell's "Net"

Jennifer Kelly, writing for Dusted Magazine, has penned a excellent review for our recent 2xLP reissue of Sandra Bell's "Net"... 

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Dusted Magazine Review By Jenifer Kelly

"Think of Sandra Bell as New Zealand’s Patti Smith, chanting abstract poetry over firestorms of guitar noise, collaborating with the avant garde and turning up the noise and distortion in a way that few female contemporaries felt moved to do. At least that was the trend in 1992’s Dreams of Falling, her first full-length, the one produced by Peter Jeffries (This Kind of Punishment, Nocturnal Projections) and bolstered by contributions from Peter Gutteridge (the Clean, the Chills), Kathy Bull (of Look Blue Go Purple) and Dunedin experimenter Alastair Galbraith. Four years later, with Net, Bell was mixing gritty distortion with more overt nods to folk and blues, substituting a disaffected drawl for chant and bringing a passel of Irish traditional instruments in for certain songs (“Caitlan” especially).

Net was Bell’s second album, coming after the breakout Dreams of Falling and U.S. tour with Peter Jefferies and Alastair Galbraith. Produced by Brendan Hoffman, it features a slightly reconfigured band – Kathy Bull again on bass, Shaun Broadly (of Chug) on drums with cameos from David Mitchell (Goblin Mix), Alastair Galbraith, Denise Roughan (Look Blue Go Purple, 3Ds) and Greg Fox. A mini-Celtic band of Barry Corkery, Kate Jenson and Greg Waite puts a desolate lilt under “Caitlan”, and its members turn up separately in a couple of other tracks as well. The reissue also incorporates some contemporaneous singles — the “Angel/Gilt” 7” released on Zabriskie Point in 1995 and a double 7” on the Turbulence label in the same year.

Net’s best songs seesaw between spare and desolate minor key acoustic guitar and the balls-out abandon of overdriven guitar. “Long Time”, the first cut, contemplates loss in mournful tones at first, the haze of strumming pierced by the tick of sticks on cymbals. But as Bell reaches the climax of her narrative, “another tear… carved into my face” the emotion shifts from melancholy to a transporting kind of rage. The fuzzy guitar break is huge and bristling with dissonance, riding blistery long notes that are drawn out to the point of cat-wailing torture. It’s obliterating and beautiful in the manner of certain Dinosaur Jr. songs.

With “Trains”, you get a hint of the folk-derived direction Bell is heading. Corkery plays a plaintive accordion that flits and wheezes through the blare of sawed off guitar sound; it’s like music plowed over by bulldozers. But it’s really the wild-stringed “Caitlan” that hears Bell plunge, piano first, into keening, unhinged folk mode. Corkery plays Bodhran here, Greg Waite picks up the Irish pipe and Kate Jenson coaxes wounded murmurs from a cello, but if you thought all that Irish accoutrement would soften things, you’d be wrong. The song is burnt, blackened, gutted, crazed. “Men shouting, shouting at the sea, swimming or drowning, hey look at me,” wails Bell, unearthly, untethered.

There’s a blues foundation in a lot of these tracks – “Walking”, “They Say” – but Bell and her bandmates are guided, not constrained by it. “Keening”, the cut with Alastair Galbraith, is particularly experimental with its vertiginous zooms of guitar effect and moodily abstract atmospheres.

The singles appended here seem more straightforwardly rock than the main album content. “Angel” in particular has a lo-fi exuberance that reminds me of Ty Segall, a verbal acuity that evokes Sebadoh. Bell’s voice is almost entirely submerged in the guitar murk; the sound as viscous and enveloping as a basement show. “Gilt” runs a bit slower, smoldering with shorted out bass, thumping with eighth notes on the kick drum. “I remember years ago, when they burnt this house down, we screamed and shouted, we couldn’t take no middle ground,” Bell chants, her voice rising to a moan, very reminiscent of Lydia Lunch. The Turbulence singles are very much in the “Subway Nihilism” mode of Bell’s first album, spoken poetry wrapped in a nettle-stung bristle of noise.

Net fits loosely into a landscape of sprawling lo-fi (Sebadoh), of feedback addled freakouts (Dinosaur Jr.), of hazed over, fuzz ridden NZ rock (the Clean), and female empowered contemporaries like PJ Harvey and Lydia Lunch, but loosely is the key word. There’s not really much it sounds like in any direct way, either from the mid-1990s period of its creation or any time between then and now."



Author: Jeff Kuykendall