The new album, “The Sun Will Find You,” combines the duo’s yawning melodies with more finely tuned production.
At the end of May, longstanding “sleepy rock” duo Bell Monks (Jeff Herriott and Eric Sheffield) quietly released The Sun Will Find You, their second record on Danish label Clang. It’s the proper follow-up to their sterling 2016 collaboration with Madison-based electronic musician and curator, Gregory Taylor, Brocades + Palimpsests, which saw Herriott and Sheffield stretching and weaving their more electronic impulses into Taylor’s atmospheric soundscapes. The release was among Tone Madison’s favorites of 2016. That same year, Bell Monks also put out a more song-oriented EP, Big Bay. The Sun Will Find You rather finds Herriott and Sheffield returning to their elemental songcraft once again, pairing patient melodies with daring production choices. The LP’s gentle arrival matches its overarching compositional approach, and it emerges as a kind of meditative beacon for those seeking a spiritual respite or renewal in the face of unrest and injustice.
With everyone still self-quarantining and most traditional concert spaces still shuttered (the band’s last show was a cozy winter house concert on Madison’s South Side), Herriott and Sheffield used the opportunity to digitally collaborate on a beautifully simple live version of single “All My Life,” which gives the song a different spaciousness than the home studio-produced version on record. Shot on separate iPhones, touched-up with Reason, and edited with Final Cut, the performance smooths out the track’s soft analog crackle and eerie Moog lines in favor of more legato electric guitar and drum pad. Visually, the muted black-and-white palate is enhanced by a rustic brush-strokes filter, adapted from one of Herriott’s own paintings. Vertical streaks of magenta and primary color pastels overlaid with the plainness of the video’s interior rooms evoke the more subtle psychedelic elements of the band’s oeuvre.
Compositionally, The Sun Will Find You is the most pristinely produced and stylistically diverse Bell Monks effort yet. While tunes like the title track draw on the band’s signature slowcore leanings, tagged by Herriott’s pensive baritone hum, guest slide guitarist Sven Gonstead adds a further touch of twangy blues on the verses and bridge of “Who Will Know” and the latter moments on the slightly Mark Hollis-esque epic “I Wait For Nothing.” Most noticeably, though, is the record’s distinctively percussive, textural breadth. Thus, “The Hills Are All The Same” becomes the most immediate stunner, as it meshes hi-hats with an undercurrent of turntablism and the harmonics of returning guest Ben Willis’ bowed contrabass. “I Wait For Nothing” boasts the same ambitious sensibility, searing the deliberateness of its electric bassline with sounds of extended technique—screeching cymbal reverb and glitchy skitters—that add a curious tension to the tone of the track that borders on the surreal, and imprints The Sun Will Find You with corners of a shady sonic awning amidst its bright air of accessibility.