Sandra Bell

Dreams of Falling

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Bell's first album is almost a collaboration with fellow Kiwi cult figure Peter Jefferies, who plays on half of the album's tracks (his piano on "Black Into Blue" practically gives away the identity of the performer) and also assumes engineering and mixing duties. At times, Bell comes very close to being his musical fraternal twin, as the gloomy, piano-led "Inner State" shows especially. While there's the same sense of what is at times delicate and other times rampaging electric claustrophobia throughout Dreams that often crops up in Jefferies' work sonically, Bell is still the central figure, and quite a figure she cuts. Playing a solid range of instruments, from guitar to didgeridoo, and singing in a low, sometimes intentionally mixed-down tone, her abilities and sharp poetry make the occasional comparisons to Patti Smith understandable without being obvious. Bell is her own person, and her words of urban alienation and strange, mystic images find good company with the music, a fair chunk of which she composed on her own as well. Sometimes she keeps things simpler, as on "Manai," with driving, dark guitar tones supporting her mantra-like tale of a mystic wanderer. Elsewhere, she's not afraid of a little bit of noise; the wittily titled "Sunday Nihilism" features a wonderfully snarling central riff, with her vocals all but buried under shifting washes of fuzz, rhythm, and sound. Besides Jefferies, a strong set of fellow New Zealand artists contributes to the proceedings, including violin legend Alastair Galbraith, 3Ds guitarist David Mitchell, and Look Blue Go Purple veteran Kathy Bull. For all the various, often striking guest performances, one of Bell's most effective moments on the disc is "Lost Train"; completely on her own in this track, she plays guitar and various kinds of piano. The song has an ominous, almost industrial start, with dark currents of sound weaving through the mix as Bell delivers her equally unsettling lyric.

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