REVIEW: Caroline Blind 'The Spell Between'
‘The Spell Between’, 2020’s debut solo album from former Sunshine Blind frontwoman Caroline Blind, approaches its first anniversary this coming March. A new video for the single ‘Need to Say’ has just made its debut, attracting fresh interest in the album.
Alex Baker at Post-punk.com described ‘Need to Say’ as “deep, heartfelt and cathartic”, and heralded Caroline as a “Goth Icon”. Sounds and Shadows officiated it as ‘Song of the Day’, with editor Ken Magerman highlighting “a powerful and emotive delivery… a gorgeous rushing wind, rustling leaves and passing through your fingertips… Damn, this hits the feels.”
Meanwhile, Blind and ‘Need to Say’ cowriter Rich Witherspoon (The Wake) are reportedly hard at work on something special to commemorate one year of ‘The Spell Between’. What better time then, to reappraise the album, one track at a time?
1. First (The Wake)
Track one, the aptly titled ‘First’, is a cover of The Wake, albeit barely recognisable; transformed from the bass-heavy gothic rock drone of the original into a deeply unsettling, seething, near-murderous folk ballad. Blind’s mix of acoustic guitar, atmospheric soundscapes, and dissonant vocal harmonies are similar in tone to the post-industrial folk of Dr Kevorkian and the Suicide Machine (alias Jordan Reyne). The Wake’s own guitarist and cofounder Rich Witherspoonmakes his first of several appearances as a guest player and collaborator here: in this instance adding shrill, heavily processed electric guitars and occasional interjections of programmed rhythms. His guitar almost sounds like the metal-on-metal screech of a train coming into station, as Blind repeats the hook, “I’m on the slow train…. Slow train to nowhere…”
2. God Damn the Sun (Swans)
The “dark folk cover versions” trajectory continues with ‘God Damn the Sun’ by Swans. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, the most brutally painful, raw, and maudlin composition on ‘The Spell Between’, and no less beautiful for it: perhaps even more so, in Caroline’s hands. Transposed into an entirely different key, Blind is joined again by Witherspoon, this time on baritone acoustic guitars, along with her regular live right-hand man, Dave Dramedy of The Dramedy (formerly of LA deathrockers Readership Hostile), also on acoustic guitars. An earlier demo of the track, Caroline says, was the first solo effort she ever recorded entirely on her own after teaching herself to use Protools. It marked a significant milestone, many years since the breakup of her old band, along with the collapse of her marriage to cofounder and guitarist CWHK, who normally took charge of arranging and recording their songs. Discovering the means to create music unassisted, she says, reduced her to tears. The final album version could welldo the same to you.
3. Heaven (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry)
A third acoustic cover, this time of ‘Heaven’ by Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, makes a hattrick right out of the gate. Again, Blind is joined by a member of the original band, namely David ‘Wolfie’ Wolfenden (also ex-The Mission, Expelaires, and Rose of Avalanche). Not unlike Witherspoon on ‘First’, Wolfenden adds treated electric guitar atmosphere to the otherwise acoustic rendition. Rich Witherspoon in turn reappears on acoustic guitar, meanwhile adding his rarely heard vocals to the mix; a gentle voice, joining in faintly with Blind in a sweet and tender moment. Blind’s rendition of the song is not a million miles from the Lorries’ already lovely‘Heaven (Acoustic Version)’ (a bonus track on some versions of 1988’s album ‘Blow’), but is more richly layered, while her voice adds a somewhat more uplifting quality, by contrast with Chris Reed’s achingly bleak delivery.
4. Tribe (Sunshine Blind)
In stark contrast, ‘Tribe’, from the songbook of Sunshine Blind, brings us the album’s first significant break in tone: the most physical, visceral, energetic track featured. Never officially released before by the band themselves, former Sunshine Blind cohorts Geoff Bruce (drums) and CWHK(guitars) join Caroline to offer up tumbling neo-tribal“positive punk” styled drumming, and jarring, squallinggothic punk guitars. Los Angeles Deathrock stalwart, William Faith (The Bellwether Syndicate, Faith and the Muse, Christian Death/Shadow Project et al), fills out the line-up on grinding gothic bass, making ‘Tribe’ the album’s Goth AF moment by a wide margin. Even so, at times the thunderous tumult falls away, and allows the familiar lush, full-bodied acoustic guitars to reclaim their position at the forefront.
5. Death to Sleep (Blind/Wolfenden)
‘Death to Sleep’ is a cowrite between Caroline and Wolfie. It is the first taste on the album of triphop and downtempo electronic elements, but a flavour that will be familiar to fans of Sunshine Blind, who sometimes incorporated similar influences. The style is comparable to Massive Attack or Bjork, with David Wolfenden providing the largely electronic instrumentation, while Blind’s vocal hovers above: part dream, part disjointed observer.
6. Regodless (Sunshine Blind)
‘Regodless’ is another Sunshine Blind track, but this timereimagined, minus Blind’s original bandmates. Dave Dramedy instead reappears on acoustic guitars, while all other instruments are handled by Ashe Rüppe, of Delphine Coma. The original version’s bombastic, heavy-handed immediacy has been stripped away here, revealing its softer, more vulnerable core. Swooning, textural guitars and fluid harmonic bass counterpoints are set against a moody, atmospheric backdrop, punctuated at regular intervals by a soaring, yearning vocal hook: a chorus that gets stuck in your head with repeated listens. Melodically, some of the decidedly nineties, ‘adult contemporary’/MOR flavour remains from the original, making ‘Regodless’ a slow burner, but ultimately worth the wait.
7. Crescent and the Star (Sunshine Blind)
The dissolving of Sunshine Blind’s more overcooked moments continues with track seven. ‘Crescent and the Star’abandons all of its nineties-fuelled excess in favour of a skittish, rhythmic amalgam of electric and acoustic guitars,leaning towards the hypnotic exoticism of the Velvet Underground and Nico. Blind is accompanied here by guitarist George Earth (Switchblade Symphony), who also played with Sunshine Blind for their final album, ‘I Carry You’ (2003), and has in more recent years joined Caroline and Dave Dramedy as part of the regular line-up for her live shows. ‘Crescent and the Star’ is, in common with ‘Tribe’,one of the faster-paced tracks on the album, and one that almost approaches the gothic rock of yore, but is tempered here by Blind’s avant-folkish leanings. One unfortunate drawback to tracks 6 and 7 is that they both work a lot better if you already know the originals, and tend to be less engaging on their own merits. Provided with that point of reference, however, both are instantly more exciting and novel.
8. Need to Say (Blind/Witherspoon)
‘Need to Say’ is more fully re-immersed in the ‘dark folk’ that characterised the earlier part of ‘The Spell Between’. Co-written and performed by Caroline Blind (keyboards, vocals) and Rich Witherspoon (acoustic and baritone guitars), ‘Need to Say’ sprang from the two songwriters’ grief at the loss of their respective fathers: still raw and recent for Witherspoon at the time. The music comprises some of the record’s most luxurious acoustic guitar textures yet, and once more calls to mind Jarboe-era Swans. The new video for the song, courtesy of a filmmaker credited only as Tintin, is sprinkled with evocative imagery of bride-and-groom figurines dancing; adult and child hands holding; old family photographs; and the figure of an elderly man walking away into a cemetery, vanishing. “There’s no need to say, ‘We Tried’, or ‘We’re Sorry’… Just hold both my hands, before you slip away, and sleep.”
9. Ain’t no Sunshine (Bill Withers)
A cover of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers returns to triphop territory, built around some Massive Attack-esque loops and programming, minimal acoustic guitar patterns, and a suitably soulful vocal performance. It’s the most novel and surprising of the covers featured on the album, and a fitting title for inclusion on Blind’s first record made (largely) without Sunshine Blind. Equally fitting, it is the one track recorded entirely solo.
10-11. The ‘Alt Mixes’ (Gordon Young)
‘The Spell Between’ closes with two ‘Alt Mix’ versions of songs from further up the track-listing, both reworked by Gordon Young (of Pretentious, Moi?, Children on Stun, and many others). Young also mixed, mastered and co-produced the album. His remix of the Blind/Wolfenden track‘Death to Sleep’ stays in the triphop lane, but brings out more immediacy, forward momentum, and commercial polish by contrast with the darker, more spacious atmosphere of the original cut. The remix of ‘Regodless’ by Sunshine Blindmeanwhile draws out more from the bright, crisp acoustic guitars of Dave Dramedy, while Young adds his own shimmering, ethereal dreampop electric guitars and bass, and drives that chorus’s earworm still deeper into the brain.
The Spell Between is a fantastic release filled with a host of musicians from some of goth and darkwave's most notable bands. A must have for your music collection.
Watch the video for "Need to Say" and purchase below at bandcamp