Album Reviews - Reviews

Bell X1 – Chop Chop


As any fule kno, “doing a Radiohead” has become journalistic shorthand for when a given band releases a record which sounds different – sometimes radically and sometimes just a little – to the ones which preceded it, or at the very least features synthesisers or sampled drums. Derived from the moment when said band dropped Kid A on an unsuspecting public, it can either be used a positive or a pejorative, and suggests an artistic act of bravery or petulance. Of course, none of these things are in any way accurate or insightful, and are instead employed to squeeze a given artist and their work into a neat, snappy sound bite or pull quote.

However, I would wager that Bell X1 will have to get used to hearing that they have “done a Radiohead” with Chop Chop. Yes, it is somewhat different to their previous albums: a distinct emphasis on slow burn means that the tracks herein lack the immediacy of, say, ‘Velcro’, but the persistent listener will be rewarded with repeated plays. Opening track ‘Starlings Over Brighten Pier’ sets both the tone and musical style. Its crescendo of piano trills and brass recalls, fittingly, Elbow’s ‘Starlings’, and the mood continues into ‘A Thousand Little Downers’, where Humphrey Lyttelton horns blossom into a jubilant, widescreen climax. Further, ‘Diorama’ takes a simple yet lovely melody, much like ‘Codex’ by, ahem, Radiohead, and works magic with it. Again, the horns are gorgeous: soft-focused and warm, and delicately balanced against the vocals.

Yes, all of this is indeed very lovely but a smidge more variation would have been welcome. ‘I Will Follow You’, with its Tom Waits guitar lines and off-kilter drums, breaks the mid-tempo pattern, and finale ‘The End Is Nigh’ is suitably bombastic yet a few more of songs in a similar vein would have broadened the palette effectively. The template of quiet and understated intro building to a big ta-da! finish is well and good when used sparingly but when applied to every song it loses its impact. There is no doubt that Bell X1 are very talented musicians: the tracks on offer here are cleverly constructed and layered with detail yet more variety would have benefitted their cause no end. Ross Thompson

(Chop Chop is out now on BellyUp Records)