Bell X1 - Chop Chop (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
IRELAND’S Bell X1 continue to go from strength to strength as a band with their latest offering, Chop Chop.
A self-consciously simpler album than their previous two offerings, and so brief as to leave you wanting more, it’s also a collection of songs that are steeped in beauty.
Rather than relying on malevolent noise makers and malfunctioning computers, Chop Chop shaves the band’s trademark melancholic sound – sculpted by frontman Paul Noonan, bassist Dominic Philips and multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty – down to nothing but reverb-trailed riffs, wildly expressive vocals and delicately layered rhythms. It’s effective in its simplicty and often strikingly brilliant.
The delicacy is evident from the start as drum whisks and swirling piano arrangements usher in the opening line “starlings over Brighton pier [the name of the song], what do they know, what do they hear”? Noonan’s vocals are fragile, the drum arrangements quite possibly mimicking the fluttering of winds on the sea breeze. It’s tranquil and beguiling and thought-provoking, ushering you into a serene state of mind.
A Thousand Little Downers, meanwhile, opens amid some striking piano arrangements before whisking you off on another brilliant track. But it’s cleverness lies in the way it wrong-foots the listener, too… the chorus is Bowie-esque, the piano arrangement cinematic but the sudden blasts of reverb-laden guitar a true guilty pleasure, lending the song an occasional kick that makes sure you’re paying the fullest attention. As a track in its own right, it has to rate as one of the best you’ll hear this year.
There’s a bittersweet melancholy surrounding the next song, too: the equally enchanting Careful What You Wish For. On this occasion, the piano is accompanied by slick beats. But this is no normal ballad. There’s a majesty to it that elevates it way, way, way beyond the more generic likes of those being peddled by boy bands. It’s thought-provoking and hypnotic with a terrific chorus.
Diorama channels the ballad-style of Coldplay and is even more sparse. But just when you think the album may be completely low-key, I Will Follow You picks up the tempo and relies more on percussive elements that build towards a thrilling chorus. There’s an optimism lyrically, too, that offsets some of the album’s sadder elements.
Drive By Summer then drops one of the most delicious guitar hooks on the LP (heard first around the minute and 20-second mark) and offers up a laidback sunshine anthem to savour, while Motorcades trades slick beats with cute bassline hooks and another great chorus (“she cries at motorcades” that draws in some beautiful piano). If anything, the song has an element of Talking Heads about it during the verses.
Feint Praise then cleverly broadens the reference palette once more with traces of Motown and some soul (offering up a ’60s throwback with contemporary know-how), while The End Is Nigh completes the 37-minute set-list with a slow-building epic that’s rife with striking piano arrangements and reflective lyrics about life, memory, growing up and moving on.
We always look forward to new material from Bell X1 because we’ve come to expect something new and special each time. Chop Chop does not disappoint. It’ll be right up there with the best albums of 2013.
Download picks: A Thousand Little Downers, Careful What You Wish For, I Will Follow You, Drive By Summer, Motorcades