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Bobb Trimble - Iron Curtain Innocence / Harvest of Dreams

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Artist: Bobb Trimble

Album: Iron Curtain Innocence / Harvest of Dreams

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Nov. 30, 2007

We often find ways to interpret anything that crosses our paths to fit a certain definition. The music of one Bobb Trimble, I feel, circumvents such needs. I’ve listened to poorly-transferred MP3s and a cheap-shot bootleg CD enough times to have found myself thoroughly transfixed, and alternately flummoxed, by the material presented on 1981’s Iron Curtain Innocence and the following year’s Harvest of Dreams, both works that have been deified by appraisers of “real people” music, rare record collectors, and enthusiasts of psychedelia since their release. As listeners, we’re welcome to explore and feel the emotions that flood both works; truthfully, it’s hard not to react after listening to either one, be it fanaticism, mild embarrassment, or anyplace in between. But Trimble pulls off a real coup here: his songs, even at their most juvenile, hold unfailingly to him, and clearly belong to the same eloquent and tortured body of work, appealing to his own state of mind and ignorant of genre or trends. There’s no prying these away from the artist’s secret intentions. We become appraisers, bordering on junior psychologists, when we are confronted with music that plays outside of our set tastes. We can throw any shopworn conceits at them, as to why they were made they way they were. Trimble strives to show us that none will stick.

Both albums, in their own ways, play as if a devout fan sequenced them. Songs – all of them ballads, often draped in fuzz, carefully performed, and warmly arranged beneath reverb and sound effects - repeat in slightly different versions at the beginning and end of a side of vinyl, as if someone had loved them enough to listen to them twice during the cutting process. Initially, it'll seem as if Trimble ran out of material (one track, “The World I Left Behind,” is left intentionally blank, the protested end of Trimble’s stymied attempt to bring his pre-teen band, The Kidds, into the studio), but as you begin to pick up the subtleties of each, you’ll realize this wasn’t the case.

Trimble launched his career as a musician in Worcester, Mass. with two self-released LPs, amidst the initial boom of punk and new wave bands, a scene that likely inspired him to stop hunting for a record contract and release these works independently. Iron Curtain Innocence, born out of two sessions from 1980 and 1978, respectively, is the more immediate of the two. The first side features the later session; its first three songs capture a sweetened madness that few artists have matched so explicitly - swirling, darkened melodies and mannered vocal ululation that at first belies, then expands furiously within, a sense of despair. The candy shell of his songs melts away almost instantly, revealing that all is not right within, and no amount of consolation will allow our Bobb the peace he deserves – or so we think. The spoken bridges in “Your Little Pawn” suggest that perhaps he lives to serve under foot, and its chorus, besieged by bloopy analog synth, is one of the side’s only respites from minor chordery. That which precedes “Pawn” is divine, even daring in its twisted melancholy, and if I were to get into why, we’d be here all day.

Side two of Iron Curtain is a much calmer episode, free of sound affects, and the record succeeds largely because of its steadier nerves. “One Mile From Heaven,” the song repeated twice here, is a high point of normalcy for Trimble, his singing mannered, the regret seemingly having leveled him. It’s also part of the canon of near-perfect pop songs from the era, with a light touch that belies an apocalypse of emotions (“Give me courage to see your success,” he sings, “while I’m failing with every dream”). If the remaining songs don’t add up, that’s OK – most artists would have collapsed under the pressure of what comes before.

Harvest of Dreams calms things down and focuses a bit more, and fares the better for it. Its nine songs (10 if you count the aforementioned blast of silence) find Trimble in a better mood, with a wider palette to work from. The sound clips – telephones left off the hook and the claustrophobic blasts of the video game Defender among them – carry the paranoid distractions from the previous album, but enhance the unsteady vibes within, rather than overpower them. Here, his pop and classical sides are given more room to roam, and the effect is at times expansive (“Premonitions – The Fantasy” and its soundalike “Premonitions Boy – The Reality"), and ultimately more commercial (the gentle “If Words Were All I Had,” a timeless folk-pop piece if one ever existed). The demons show themselves regardless, particularly on the flanged epic “Armor of the Shroud” and the tainted AM radio spangle of “Paralyzed.” My personal favorite, “Take Me Home Vienna,” also lives on Harvest, its guitar solo transforming from unsteady violin scrape into a reading of “Over the Rainbow,” and its aching chorus and sharpened delivery showcasing the full extent of Trimble’s wild powers.

Both volumes are graced with bonus tracks – Iron Curtain with humble, less cluttered demos of its opening salvos, Harvest with three solid tracks that followed the album. Trimble’s career following these works is intermittently documented, but experts in the field agree that these are his high points, finally poised to make more of an impact than the whisper of their initial release. They’re easily among the most intriguing rediscoveries of the decade, and necessary listening for anyone fascinated by the brink of human emotions, and subsequently accustomed to meeting music on the musician’s oftentimes peculiar terms.

By Doug Mosurock

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