Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Bell Orchestre - Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light (2005, Rough Trade)

Bell Orchestre is an instrumental group from Montreal. The band has ties to other bands: Arcade Fire, Torngat, The Luyas, Islands and Snailhouse. Their music is a sort of an orchestral ambient and post-rock nature with a variety of instruments used. The music is very dynamic, flowing from highly energetic, upbeat and positive-sounding sections to mellow and somewhat melancholic passages.

The studio lineup consists of:
Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) - upright bass/keyboard/percussion
Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire) – violin
Stefan Schneider (The Luyas) - drums/percussion
Pietro Amato (Torngat, The Luyas) - French horn/electronics
Kaveh Nabatian - trumpet/melodica
Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse) - lap steel guitar

Review after the Jump


Not an ecstasy but a sort of delight, excitement and jubilation; those are all sensations which arise in me while listening to this album and after it ends. It is a comforting album; the music tends to calm me down, even at its most dynamic; its sound resonates in my ears, removing all worries away, grabbing me into its world, leaving reality behind and on to a soothing and cheerful musical journey.

This album took me by surprise. I was not expecting this kind of upbeat music at all. What I mean is that I was expecting some brooding and mostly melancholic music and what I got is a rather dynamic and mostly optimistic sound that makes for a rather cheerful mood and not the ordinary depressive or pensive disposition.

This is an instrumental album and what makes it special is the lack of guitars and the presence of a violin, trumpet (two dominant instruments here), French horn, melodica, keyboards and drums and percussions. Therefore, while the music is as engaging as any other rock music, it sounds different, obviously, which is part of the magic of this album.

The album starts out quietly with “Recording A Tunnel” (This theme will return throughout the album), sneaking up as some thief in the night trying not to be noticed. A trumpet and some more wind instruments of sorts lurking with hesitation, not sure whether it is yet safe to come out. This goes into the next track. There you have the bass giving a basis for the other instruments to align to. The wind instruments and xylophone are gradually getting more confident and get louder and in joins the violin and together they play a nice slightly melancholic, but still optimistic sounding tune. They add more layers by adding more instruments into the musical weave. There is a sort of interplay between the trumpet and violin, each one taking the lead now and again and when not in lead, they provide the backing sounds. This might sound sad to some people, but I find this tune to be filled with hopefulness. It ends with a return to the trumpet and percussions playing stochastically about as it began in the previous track.

In the next track the volume rises all of a sudden to reveal a wonder – violins accompanied by bass, drums and percussions playing together a tune that conveys an encouraging feel, as if trying to cheer up the listener and make him reevaluate his current status in a more positive perspective. Sounds that to me depict a person that has just now found a new interest in life. I usually tend to prefer gloomy, dark and even depressing music, but in tracks like this, Bell Orchestre show that it is possible to create a different kind of music; one that stems out of the dark origin of music and veers off to the more high spirited side of it. It is as if they use the means by which you create dark, brooding music to create the opposite. It’s not straightforward happy music, not at all. It is simply the feel of positivism and content that is expressed in their compositions. It ends on a mellow note, letting you ponder on what you just heard.

The next track too is an energetic one that for some reason reminded me at first of Irish fiddlers playing. But this is not a lasting impression. Again the violin play a quick equivalent of a guitar riff and the trumpet plays its main role while the drums and percussions have fun in the background (or should I say the foreground, as they are very well heard but not shadowing the music). In this track I sense the power of the music of Bell Orchestre; the dynamics of their compositions.

After that we return again to the “Recording A Tunnel” theme. A trumpet calls us to stay vigilant and ready for the next part. What is next is a track that begins as a composition that GY!BE might do, only that when the drumming begin it strays off from that sound and you receive the
usual BO’s sound again. A simplistic drum beat, but an effective one to emphasize the violin part in the role of the rhythm section while the horn plays some abstract sounds. This ends abruptly, only leaving the violin behind as a remnant. The Bells Play the Band is another short track with what I think is a glockenspiel playing a simple few notes. Recording a Tape has a typewriter playing in it along with the tapping of the string instruments.

What I also like about this group, apart from all the things I said in the beginning of this review, is the swapping of the roles of instruments; their violin replaces the guitars and the trumpet replaces the vocals.

A possible downside for some listeners might be the blurry parts where it’s sure what is going on and where the music is it headed, if at all. It might be perceived as not being focused and trying to achieve too much. On the other hand you might say those parts enhance the overall experience one has while listening to the album. So it’s up to you. As for me, it changes every time I listen to the album, depending on my mood, but for the most part, I am comfortable with those, while a small proportion does feel not focused.

To sum it up, for a beautiful, instrumental and optimistic sounding album, with a special sound due to the instruments used, Bell Orchestre’s album is one I recommend without hesitation.

Bell Orchestre - Upwards March from Kaveh Nabatian on Vimeo.

Bell Orchestre - Stripes

Bell Orchestre | Myspace Music Videos

Bell Orchestre - Bell Orchestre 'Stripes' FlyTV In The Courtyard

Bell Orchestre On Tour in the Baltics from Kaveh Nabatian on Vimeo.

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