Bell Orchestre – As Seen Through Windows
Good LP, good concept too, even if (in my opinion) it falls a bit short overall. Doubtless the more savvy amongst you know that the band boasts members of the Arcade Fire; not that they’d be too happy about being singled out, but you know that this fact is the elephant in the room, promotion-wise…
Bell Orchestre ain’t no rock band as we poor simpletons understand, though. They play unconventional rock instruments such as French Horn and Upright Bass. Actually, why not mention the sleeve notes here, “Bell Orchestre is made of strings, bells, horns, drums, stethoscopes, samples and quiet noise”. Bloody heck…
Still, celeb spotting aside, this is a mighty LP, full of energy and verve and open spaces. The opener Stripes sounds like a school of whales smashing a schooner into shards. Elsewhere there’s a lot of melancholy on show, even when things aren’t straightforwardly downbeat; Elephants is a stop-start number, seemingly without structure; at times a reflective plod, then exploding from time to time with (almost inappropriate) noises and squelches. The following track, Icicles /Bicycles is a more measured piece, benefitting from a beautiful violin part which could be straight from an old Värttinnä LP and a better use of space and tempo.
This is all music for abstract, reflective moods; the titles give it all away; the music on Water/Light/Shifts and As Seen Through Windows sound pretty much like their titles (apart, admittedly, from the latter track; which suddenly morphs into a spy theme of epic proportions half way through). There are moments when things take off completely; Bucephalus Bouncing Ball combines some DJ Shadow licks, wild violin parts and Aeron Copeland atmospherics to great effect; pretentious title or not.
My favourite track is the last; Air Lines/Land Lines which is for the most part a dogged, folky waltz, carried by a reedy violin part and counter-pointed by a couple of brass instruments. Things get het up about two thirds in, and a juddering beat carries things to a most satisfactory conclusion. That doesn’t sound enticing, I know; but there’s something very mysterious about the whole thing that is captivating.
It’s a funny LP in some respects; there’s a lot of undeniably great music here, but somehow it’s a bit studied and pre-planned and, well, clunking… Without sounding flippant the band needs a groove and maybe some space, because there’s definitely something exciting in their music. If only they could give it the required space to mature.
Words: Richard Foster