Are you one of those people time keeps running over? Do you still love the same candy you did when you were 12? Have you ever cried watching a painting? Is the average age of your love interests closer to yours or to your parents’? Do your eyes light up when someone says “Hieronymus Bosch”? Maybe you enjoyed AMC’s Lodge 49 and couldn’t really explain to others what was so magical about it. If an answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you could probably get a kick out of Tele Novella’s new album Merlynn Belle.
Lockhart, Texas psychedelic pop act Tele Novella is a two-wheel medieval-country drive for singer-songwriter Natalie Ribbons and multi-instrumentalist Jason Chronis. They have been around the Austin scene for a while with their previous projects, Agent Ribbons and Voxtrot and although Merlynn Belle is their second album, it’s the first record they’re putting out as a duo.
In their own words, this one is a vessel for, “the music they wanted to be making all along but didn’t know until it happened accidentally.” They added; “songwriting slowly processed through a loner medieval-tonk machine and then captured on cassette 8-track”.
I have no previous experience with the two, but from the snippets I’ve heard, this album really is different from their previous work. Still it does not stray far from Agent Ribbons and a curious ear will love it. Merlynn Belle sounds very naïve and could easily include a cover of any song from Philosophy of the World.
Picking out a record to spin nowadays is rarely an adventure. We all have a software thingy (maybe even friends or a favorite website) recommending something that fits in well with our previous listening experience. But what those software thingies (and maybe even your friends or websites) don’t know is what movies and TV series made you blush. And this is why you need to flip over a couple of album covers from time to time.
We must not forget that albums covers never lost the ability to speak about what’s on the record. The images got smaller, but the language is the same.
Merlynn Belle’s cover comes with a crayon drawing of a naked woman riding a person disguised as a lion over a white background. Nothing too iconic here, but if you’re a fan of the 70’s folk-horror Wicker Man, this drawing will lure you into this mystical tale of an odd side of the big human “us” (but it’s crayons so it’s safe for the children). The chosen fonts join in on the theme of medieval pagan ritual and this being the time of carnival, I couldn’t imagine an album more appropriate for the season.
The opener, ‘Words That Stay,’ did not fail my expectations. It brought in all of the sounds I’ve expected. I felt like the third season of Lodge 49 has been announced. The soundtrack of the cancelled AMC’s TV series I keep bringing up features artists akin to Tele Novella (e.g., some garage rock bands from 60’s or their contemporaries The Soundcarriers). Yes, it’s psychedelic, but not only in sound, in the plots as well. In that regard, it reminds me a lot more of Stephin Merritt’s projects or a prolific one-man band Natives of Nothing. Yes, it’s also popish.
Psychedelic pop, no matter how we disguise it, is timeless. This album of odd themes (surreal beauty, well-dressed crystal-eating witches and illuminated shrines) and odd instruments (harmonium, autoharp, vibraphone) supports the claim. Despite what we may think, it’s not too bizarre or morbid. Natalie’s voice might summon back the voices of Bonnie Dobson or her namesake Beecher, but it’s not as dark. Most of these tunes are plain old love songs. Even our narrator confirms via verses of ‘Paper Crown’ that she tries to find love wherever she goes. I do believe she’ll find it.
And yes, to whom it may concern, please bring back Lodge 49 for another season. I miss those people.
Merlynn Belle is available to buy or stream here.