good stuff, just don't ask what stuff

The Sea and the Bells (Quarterstick/Touch and Go)

By Bob Bahr

Damn! Another Rachel's record! They are too good not to be reviewed and too eclectic and indescribable to be discussed in anything resembling a conventional album review. And this is their best recording yet. Stop here if that's all the information you need.

The uninitiated will want more information, and I'll try to give it -- no simple task for me, given the broad range of compositional styles presented on The Sea and the Bells, their hour-long third album. The core of the Rachel's band -- guitarist Jason Noble, pianist Rachel Grimes and viola player Christian Frederickson -- are all present, but the sound is thickened further by work from additional string players (violin, cello and violoncello) and the strong presence of the vibraphone. The resulting sound is like the first Rachel's release, Handwriting, but more adventurous and further from the minimalist core. "Lloyd's Register," for instance, is at times downright march-y, albeit in a twisted way, then nearly ambient, only to drift into a romantic reverie that's later propelled by drums.

Then the nightmare string strains of "The Sirens" collapse into the ambient bell tones and uneasy low howl of "Night at Sea," which moves easily into the slow-building string-and-piano ballad "Letters Home." These musicians aren't claiming anything grand -- they are just creating something grand. The bells and rumble of "To Rest Near to You" conclude with some sampled human whispers, looped not too long, but long enough to have a presence. And the overall arch and tone of Rachel's music is still more indie rock than modern, so-called classical music. It is beautiful, accessible music with quite a bit of thought behind it, and good players executing it.