The worldwide shutdown has doubtless been tough for the vast majority of the population, perhaps none more so than the artists whose work was slated for release during this unprecedented time. And while listeners have had plenty of time to consume as much content as they can possibly stand in all their copious free time, artists have had to find new and different ways in which to serve as their own publicists as the usual campaigns and tours that follow the release of an album have all been scrapped for the foreseeable future. But thanks to the internet and the resourceful nature of musicians, not all has been lost. Regardless, it’s still a strange time to be alive and to be releasing new music.

Which is unfortunate, because there have been a number of fine releases in the past few months that might not have received quite the attention they would’ve had the world continued operating as it had. Among the more deserving releases of the past few months is Lavinia Blackwall’s solo debut, Muggington Lane End. The former Trembling Bells vocalist, who left the band in 2018 – the band itself split shortly thereafter – employs a conscious move away from the much more traditional folk elements of Trembling Bells into a much more pop-oriented sound and style. It’s not only a welcome return, but also a fine opening statement for Blackwall as a solo artist.

There’s still a decidedly ‘60s bent to her approach to songwriting and arranging, coupling elements of the Kinks with the more rock-oriented end of the British folk spectrum that helped birth the Trembling Bells sound. This approach, too, helps lend Muggington Lane End a certain timeless quality in that it often sounds as though it could’ve been produced any time during the late-‘60s psychedelic era, early-to-mid-‘70s pastoral folk rock, ‘80s jangle-pop/paisley underground or any number of subsequent revivals of these myriad genres. “All Seems Better” could just as easily have been a lost ‘60s psych-pop classic as a forgotten Belle and Sebastian B-side circa If You’re Feeling Sinister, while “Troublemakers” is a gloriously Byrdsian bit of jangly folk pop that not only carries a massive hook, but serves as an exceptional showcase for Blackwall’s vocal range.

Throughout, the centerpiece is Blackwall’s crystalline vocals, possessing an unfettered purity that made her such a perfect fit as one of the lead vocalists in Trembling Bells (it’s not for nothing that there have been numerous Sandy Denny comparisons over the years). Stepping out on her own, the full range of her skills as a vocalist and songwriter are fully on display, showcasing a rich knowledge of the more esoteric fringes of the psych-pop era in both her melodic structures and idiosyncratic arrangements and use of non-traditional instrumentation. This approach lends a welcome depth to each and every track on the album, with layer upon layer revealing itself with each repeated listen.

“Ivy Ladder,” in particular, is a fine example of Blackwall and producing partner Marco Rea’s exceptionally nuanced skills in building tracks from typical pop/rock instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) and gradually layering in additional instrumentation throughout the course of the song to help create a sweeping lushness that, upon closer inspection, reveals a deceptively complex compositional approach.

But it’s not all heady compositional tricks and next level musicianship. This is simply icing on an already scrumptious sonic cake, the album itself showcasing a rich range of the finest ear worms (the aforementioned, giddily hook-y “Troublemakers”) and homages to her influences (it’s hard not to hear Morrissey fronting the Kinks on “John’s Gone”) amongst uniformity excellent songwriting. Indeed, from the opening, hypnotically swirling, almost carnivalesque “Nothing is Wasted” through the jangly closer “When Will All Come to Light,” Muggington Lane End shows itself to be a masterclass in pure pop perfection. Those who found themselves enamored of Blackwall’s vocal presence on each and every Trembling Bells record will no doubt be thrilled with her stunning, self-released debut.

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