Plumbiferous Media

Bloodless Coup – Bell X1

May 1st 2011
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Bloodless Coup - Bell X1Bell X1
Bloodless Coup
Score: 86

Irish alt-rock group Bell X1 was founded 12 years ago, and it’s been growing in popularity ever since. Six EPs later, including two #1 chart placements, the band’s put out their newest album, Bloodless Coup. With Bloodless Coup, Bell X1’s combined the best of their earlier work to form what is quite possibly their best album yet. It may not be flawless, but it’s certainly an enjoyable section of Bell X1’s work – not to mention solid proof that they haven’t lost a bit of what’s made them great over the years.

Bell X1’s instrumentals on Bloodless Coup display an incredible degree of variety, from the acoustic guitar and piano above a simple electric bass on “The Trailing Skirts of Love” to more electronic-influenced rhythms of “Sugar High” and “Velcro,” to the relatively traditional electric guitar and organ on “Haloumi” and “74 Swans.” None of these variations seems out of place, and for the most part they’re superbly executed. That said, sometimes the more electronic sections seem overdone, with effects ranging into 80s-Casio-keyboard territory on one or two occasions. Prominent and vibrant basslines tie each track together, though, and the instrumental lines range effortlessly from very minimal guitar lines at the beginning of “4 Minute Mile” to full and sweeping harmonies on “The Trailing Skirts of Love.” Noonan’s vocals serve extremely well to tie together the widely varied instrumental lines throughout Bloodless Coup. The generally high-pitched vocal lines contrast well against the forceful bass, and the heavy electronic influence lends the entire album a distinctive sound. While the vocals are clearly the focus of the album, the instrumentals remain strong, and do a good job of complementing the vocals rather than conflicting with them.

Noonan’s voice hasn’t changed much from 2009’s Blue Lights on the Runway. It’s still careful, still tinged with something that sometimes sounds like regret and sometimes sounds like hope, and always humming above, below, or through the music. Noonan is as much a vocal force as he’s always been, and on Bloodless Coup, he’s given more opportunities to demonstrate than then he’s been on Bell X1’s earlier albums. Accordingly, Noonan’s voice rings out through Bloodless Coup, imbuing each moment with a weight that somehow makes every word relatable. It’s often Noonan that ties the album together, and it’s certainly his voice that makes it so entertaining.

Bloodless Coup may rely upon repetition from time to time, but somehow Paul Noonan manages to change what might inspire boredom in the hands of another band into something that instead intensifies emotion, making the repeated phrase all the stronger. As impressive as that is, it’s not all of what the album’s lyrics present. Instead, we’re presented with the plaintive tour-lovesong “Velcro,” where Noonan manages to make the line “I’ll be your velcro” heartfelt instead of cheesy, the abstractly metaphoric “Nightwatchmen,” and the regretful “Amsterdam Says.” It’s quite a collection, and certainly one that does the rest of the album justice.

Bloodless Coup is, quite simply, a great album. Bell X1’s taken the best of Blue Lights on the Runway, packed most of it into Bloodless Coup, and improved plenty more. That’s not to say it’s a perfect album – there’s a bit too much in the way of electronic beeps and blips, which distract from Bell X1’s true strengths, and there are more than a few times where the lyrics would be inexcusable if not for Paul Noonan’s voice. But it is great fun to listen to, and a triumph for Bell X1. All there is to wonder about, then, is whether the group can keep it up – we certainly hope so.

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