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Bell X1 - Arms (Review)

Bell X1, Arms

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT’S been a while since Bell X1 delivered their last LP in the form of 2013’s Chop Chop but while the journey to the follow-up, their seventh, has been difficult (by their own admittance), the wait is worth it.

A nine-song collection that radiates with shabby grace and soft-focus elegance, it’s also marked by a bruised, bittersweet, romantic mood throughout. Melancholic and lovelorn in places but also spirited, determined and optimistic, this is a typically eclectic offering that maintains the intelligence and overall beauty that has been a part of their song-writing for so long.

And that’s in spite of the difficulty surrounding its creation, as the band’s Paul Noonan explains: “This has been the most difficult record we’ve made, in terms of feeling like it was good enough to share, to let it go and no longer be just ours. That we’d made something different to what’s come before…

“I know we’ve been crazed with doubt, occasional bum steers and misguided conviction along the way and we say thank you to those who’ve calmed the waters…”

This apologetic tone is perhaps reflected from the outset with the track Fail Again, Fail Better, which opens with a looped sample and drum shuffle before declaring: “Take the good luck, take the bad luck, take the good luck, take the bad luck, and mix it around.” Does this signify the ‘difficult journey’ in a nutshell?

No matter, it’s an appealing first song that immediately displays the band’s penchant for mixing things up. The song is chopped up and constantly shape-shifting, yet it retains a keen melodic structure and is as beautiful as it is catchy, even with a weird breakdown mid-way through.

One of the more commercial songs follows, in the form of Bring Me A Fireking, which includes one of the best choruses on the LP. It’s a song that combines a more traditional, early Bell X1 sound as well as nods to artists such as David Bowie (particularly in its guitar sound and use of sax) – and it’s brilliant.

Bell X1’s capacity for delivering a telling ballad also shines through on The Upswing, which really taps into the lovelorn melancholy previously mentioned. It’s disarmingly bittersweet, instrumentally intricate and lyrically clever (including a Star Wars reference in the comic “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for”). Not many bands can marry pop culture references with intimacy within the same record.

Elsewhere, Sons & Daughters ponders existential elements (with lines like “what will they make of us in 1,000 years), while employing a more buoyant back-beat and sharper melodies. There’s a Talking Heads vibe to this one, as well as something vaguely ’80s in the synths. But it’s another treat.

While there’s even edge to Out of Love, which dissects love from the perspective of a failing relationship. The beats here are fractured and dangerous, with Noonan employing a darker vocal tone. The chorus, with a wondrous electronic loop, is another of the album’s highlights – shot through with urgency and lyrical potency.

Such moments arrive in stark contrast to the more serene ones, with those slow-building, yet intricately layered offerings such as Take Your Sweet Time and Fake Memory winning you over more gradually. But they reward patience and grow in beauty, while retaining that experimental playfulness.

Album closer The Coalface rounds things off in style with another meticulously constructed effort, with distinct percussion elements, lush piano arrangements and curious vocal harmonies combining to create a magnificent whole.

Arms therefore rates as another triumph for Bell X1, which is finally available in the UK (having been released in Ireland last year). It’s a prime example of a band at the peak of their form, even if they struggled to get there during the creative process.

Let’s just hope album No.8 arrives a little sooner! Life is better with more Bell X1 songs in it.

Download picks: Fail Again, Fail Better, Bring Me a Fireking, The Upswing, Sons & Daughters, Out of Love, Fake Memory

Track listing:

  1. Fail Again, Fail Better
  2. Bring Me a Fireking
  3. The Upswing
  4. I Go Where You Go
  5. Take Your Sweet Time
  6. Sons & Daughters
  7. Out of Love
  8. Fake Memory
  9. The Coalface