The sad dream-pop of London’s Trembling Blue Stars takes a decidedly indietronic bend with their latest record, The Last Holy Writer, and it’s for the better. With more focus on the keyboards, and less on acoustic guitars, Writer proves to be an encompassing, flowing record, which unfortunately drags at times, and occasionally is less than completely memorable. But at its best, Writer’s melodic emotion literally wraps the listener up.
The Trembling Blue Stars began life in the mid-nineties as a side project for shoegaze vets Robert Wratten (of Northern Picture Library) and Beth Arzy (of Aberdeen). Their first album, Her Handwriting, was mainly about Wratten’s break-up with his fellow Librarian, Annemari Davies (now of Field Mice). After Handwriting’s success, more records followed, with the band (a constantly rotating cast of characters behind Arzy and Wratten) shifting away from the pure twee-pop of their early years to a more straightforward, stripped-down sound. But with The Last Holy Writer, The Trembling Blue Stars have embraced a lappop approach that is quite removed from their last release, 2005’s The Seven Autumn Flowers, but the emotional power remains, and is in fact amplified.
Generally, The Last Holy Writer consists of touching tracks with nice keys and beats that can glide into your ear and, at its finest, your mind. The most arresting numbers are probably “Idyllwild” and “This Once Was an Island”, which also probably display the best vocals of Arzy and Wratten, respectively. “Idyllwild” covers the sadness of how horizons diminish with age in a poignant manner that makes it pretty but also more than just pretty. The eponymous chorus line of the single-worthy “This Once Was an Island” is the Trembling Blue Stars lyric most likely to get stuck in your head, with a well-fitting voice and a strong, but not overly dominant, beat, and it represents the very best in indietronica.
There is, however, a slight repetitiveness to The Last Holy Writer, with some pieces feeling like not-quite-as-good copies of others, like “November Starlings”, a slightly too bright, and even treacly, shadow of “Island”. “By False Lights” and “The Coldest Sky” are both easy on the ears with their slow, more echoing than haunting, atmosphere, but drag a bit in comparison with the similar (and superior) later track, the penultimate “The Tenth Of Always”. Flowing, with melodic male and duet vocals, “Tenth” reads like a better version of the prior tunes, with nice guitar strums to go with the keyboards and a winning switch to a higher tempo in the second half. And while some songs may strike a touch forgettable, like the more soul-bearing “Sacred Music” and the bright-yet-haunting “Darker, Colder, Slower”, special mention must be made of Writer’s finisher, “A Statue To Wilde”. A plea to build a statue to the famed late nineteenth-century writer – and convicted homosexual – in order to celebrate today’s progress (and feel shame at older prejudices), “Wilde” is nearly eight minutes in length and earns every second of it, with its enveloping orchestra and Arzy’s harmonious vocals.
With only their second original studio release in six years, The Trembling Blue Stars have taken their thoughts and feelings and moved them to the new arena of lappop; by and large, it really worked. The Last Holy Writer successfully marries their moving, without being overbearing, emotion to an encompassing form of their new genre. With particularly high-quality keyboards and vocals, both male and female, let’s hope Writer isn’t Arzy and Wratten’s last.