Bell X1 – Chop Chop (BellyUp)

Dublin’s electronic, pop-rock three-piece advance their sound to reach new, award-worthy heights

Released Jul 1st, 2013 via BellyUp / By Larry Day
Bell X1 – Chop Chop (BellyUp) The Dublin trio Bell X1 remain, somehow, unsung heroes of the wider rock scene after over a decade together and a spray of critically lauded records. The band have tended to dabble in electronics, injecting warped noises and calamitous synths into their poppy-rocky fare. Now, the threesome are set to drop their sixth studio LP, entitled Chop Chop, which is pipped to be their most organic effort in years. With the knob-twiddling duties taken by The National's regular producer, Peter Katis, they venture forth boldly into sprawling alt. rock territory, crafting tender, melancholic moments that are light on the ears and heavy on the heart. A bit like The National, really.

Tribal, disco-y percussion and funk-tinged bass welcome 'Motorcade' into our ears. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Noonan croons softly: “People cry at the strangest things/ mine is the Venezuelan national anthem,” as he (presumably) explains the little things that he loves so much about an apple of his eye. The guitar is summery and melodic, crisp and Sunday morning-esque, with triumphant brass adding to the anthemry. 'Drive-By Summer' is equally full of pep. It's a jaunty swoosh of country-flecked folk, a sort-of “down by the water hole/playin' in the corn fields/swattin' the flies” type of track. Despite the insinuation of fleeting-ness, it is a lackadaisical ditty full of muggy daydreaming and '60s haze – something to soundtrack chewin' cud in a meadow.

The National owe a lot of their iconic timbre to Matt Berninger's baritone of doom. Bell X1 lack that aspect, due to Noonan's decisively less gravelly tones. His voice is sweeter, just as emotional, but it has the added ability to channel happiness or fade into the background. Sometimes, the music is allowed to take centre stage, as on the dance-folk of 'I Will Follow You', where ceilidh sounds pierce the strumming acoustic guitars. Noonan's voice is stellar on Chop Chop, as it always has been – his higher register notes and falsetto on 'A Thousand Little Downers' flourish, even providing a glimmer of optimism within the moody woe-is-life subject matter.

Where the electronic elements have vanished, the music is considerably more tangible. Before (and with synth-based music in general) there was the danger of the sounds floating away, becoming too robotic or disconnected from reality. This is not always the case, but take things like EDM or other dance genres: it's almost impossible to get an emotional reaction. On Chop Chop, the three lads make it much, much easier to empathise and feel when you listen to the noises they've sculpted. It's intimate, human, mortal. Drums are punchier, the bass is more spontaneous. The hooks are rough, harmonies raw. It's more immediate, more special, more real.

Bell X1 have garnered nominations for various awards in the past, and they've generally just missed out on scooping the accolades. Perhaps, now that they have this slab of sordid, heartstring-tugging music, they'll win the coveted prizes they have deserved for so long. Awards are never an indicator of brilliance – think of who wins at the Brits – but given how close they've come all these years, it's about time they won something, even if just for posterity or bragging rights. Chop Chop is the kind of record that can achieve all that. It's a beautiful evolution of their sound.