Album Review: Bell X1 – Chop Chop

By on Friday, 24th May 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Bell X1 Chop Chop coverIn January of this year, Irish rock trio Bell X1 completed work on their sixth studio offering, the somewhat bewilderingly titled ‘Chop Chop.’ The summer release of ‘Chop Chop’ is anxiously anticipated by Bell X1 fans, but perhaps more so by the band themselves. In advance of the release, they have made several tracks available on SoundCloud and YouTube for sneak previewing. While the individual tracks are strong enough to pique interest, their musical and emotional impact is best realized in the context of the full album. (For singer Paul Noonan’s thoughts on this subject, see our earlier interview with him here [part 1] and here [part 2]).

Bell X1 have always had an immensely underrated talent for making glorious music from the mundane. Their choices in subject matter on ‘Chop Chop’ are as unique as ever, from the murmurations of starlings and unexpected weather patterns to pensive soul-searching on both societal and personal levels. Like past albums, this one leaves an impression of slightly uncomfortable self-consciousness, with its quirky pop-culture references and often startling exposure of basic human weaknesses. While the fist-to-the-solar-plexus lyrics are kept to a restrained minimum, there are still moments of sharp wit and stinging candor. Bell X1 have never made music for the faint-of-heart; ‘Chop Chop’ is no exception to that.

Sonically, the album is much more organic than past offerings, lighter on synthesized effects and drum machines, which creates a welcome sense of intimacy. Memorable piano melodies are present on almost every track, most notably ‘Diorama’, sung in a gently introspective lilt by David Geraghty. Its hypnotically rocking piano figure is saved from sleepiness by a subtly shifting meter, while the lyrics are so understated that they almost slip by before you notice their brilliance. Especially captivating are the lines, “The woman she was before they met / he longs to meet again. / Wise is unknowing in the end,” but the whole song is elegantly and eloquently nostalgic.

In addition to their distinctive percussion, Bell X1 have experimented here with some different brass and vocal arrangements, presumably inspired by producers Peter Katis and Thomas Bartlett. Trumpeter C.J. Camerieri and “girl singer” Hannah Cohen, who have both worked with Katis and Bartlett in the past, provide ‘Chop Chop’ with a slightly lighter, warmer color than Bell X1’s past work. (Camerieri’s impressive biography can be viewed here. Cohen’s debut album ‘Child Bride’, produced by Bartlett, was released in April 2012 on Bella Union Records.)

Bell X1 do have a tendency toward moments of jarring noise, particularly in otherwise bittersweet songs like ‘A Thousand Little Downers’. It feels almost as if they’re trying to create some distance from the tenderness in the lyrics, and, oddly, it does come as somewhat of a relief from the heart-rending melody. Stand-out track ‘Motorcades’ addresses that contradiction with a musically light-hearted take on an emotionally pregnant experience. The clever lyrics are specific enough to feel personal, while the predominantly third-person point of reference keeps the sentimentality at arms’ length: “People cry at the strangest things / Mine is the Venezuelan national anthem.” (For the record, mine is ‘Just Like Mr Benn’.)

Taken independently, the songs on ‘Chop Chop’ are an eclectic mix, ranging from ethereal grandeur to whispered sweet nothings, with a few moments of soulful hip-shaking (‘I Will Follow You’ and ‘Feint Praise’) added for good measure. It’s a delicate and carefully crafted set of songs; while short in duration, its thematic material is dense and intensely thought-provoking. It clearly required great care in the making, and it will be most appreciated by those who take the same care in listening.

9/10

‘Chop Chop’, the new album from Bell X1, is set for release on 28 June in Ireland, 1 July in the UK and Europe and 2 July in North America, via BellyUp Records. Stream first single ‘The End is Nigh’ below.

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3 Responses

1:34 pm
26th June 2013

Album Review: Bell X1 – Chop Chop http://t.co/yyFPDiiEZG via @tgtf

2:02 pm
26th June 2013

RT @VocalicPage: Album Review: Bell X1 – Chop Chop http://t.co/yyFPDiiEZG via @tgtf

[…] a full-on electric tour-de-force. But the music on Bell X1′s recent album, ‘Chop Chop’ (review here) is quite well suited for such an introspective place. Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan and opening act […]

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