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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