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Bell X1, ‘Chop Chop’ – Album Review

Bell X1 - Chop Chop

Leave it to Bell X1 — Ireland’s second-favorite alt-rock heartthrobs — to soundtrack the apocalypse with a disco beat. ‘The End is Nigh’ closes the band’s sixth studio album with that quintessential bread ‘n’ butter blend — anthemic hooks and quirky emoting: “Who would make the cut / When our time is up?,” sings frontman Paul Mooney, his elastic tenor quivering over the band’s earnest pulse, “Everyone pointin’ at the sky / Screaming ‘the end is nigh.'”

For Bell X1 die-hards, it’s a musical coke snort. But the rest of ‘Chop Chop’ isn’t as easy a fix. Working with co-producers Peter Katis and Thomas Bartlett, Bell X1 have veered drastically from Pro-Tool’d, electro-tinged pop expansiveness of 2011’s ‘Bloodless Coup,’ embracing a more organic, atmospheric style.

Where ‘Coup’ found the band straining awkwardly for big-hearted hits, ‘Chop’ is almost defiantly anti-climatic. The dreamy ‘Starlings Over Brighton Pier’ signals this creative re-birth immediately through its layered expanses: swirling arpeggiated piano, moaning brass, sauntering tom-toms. Katis and Bartlett have experience in this field. They’ve added artful grandeur to The National‘s sad-sack epics, and they’re in equally fine form here — from orchestral piano textures (‘Diorama’), sleepy-eyed indie-pop (‘A Thousand Little Downers’), and blue-eyed soul ballads (the exquisite ‘Feint Praise’) alike. But Paul Noonan’s voice remains the nucleus: robust and warm, emotive enough not to be overwrought.

There are too many sleepy moments that drift into the ether unremarkably. ‘Motorcades’ perks up toward the end with some intricate vocal harmonies, but the build-up is a bit plodding; ‘Drive-By Summer’ is backwoods log-cabin post-rock that never fully coheres. But the ultimate pay-off is worth the occasional stumble. ‘Chop Chop’ is another fascinating chapter in Bell X1’s bizarre evolution.

7 out of 10 rating

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