In Bell Orchestre’s first release in over a decade, they dabble with classical and electronic music in one improvisational session on their latest album, House Music. Sonically it’s an accomplished work; however, the instrumentation sometimes misses the mark as some of the melodies sound more like filler than moments of inspiration.
Each track's core remains strong, courtesy of Stefan Schneider’s steady and innovative drumming and the brilliant production which squeezes the best out of each note. The fundamentals are cohesive and raw. The mini-orchestra drip masterfully between moods and from one musical setting to another in the coalescence between each members’ expert handling of musical change, despite the occasional absence of melodic intricacy.
“I: Opening” introduces us to the simple melodic loop written by bassist and vocalist Richard Reed Parry, which acts as the fulcrum for each track. Bell Orchestre settle into the groove of the loop on “II: House,” where it is played pizzicato. Swooning string melodies and crystalline harmonics hop back and forth before the drums come to life with the bass in tangent. The rattling snare fizzes on top of a booming bass before the mood changes expertly from clarity to darkness.
Once again, the Montreal-based outfit demonstrates their penchant for left turns on, “III: Dark Steel.” Boneyard drums jangle with spooning rhythms accompanied by Pietro Amato’s sliding French horn and Kavah Nabatian’s trumpet fanfare. The drums are suitably chaotic before the track takes a breath, with digital keyboards glitching against the rest of the instruments who struggle to create a distinguishable melody.
This flows into “IV: What You’re Thinking,” where the jumbled noise changes shape into a miscellaneous sound of drums, disorganized violins and a stiff distorted cello. The cello is the highlight, giving the track focus as Sarah Neufeld’s violin tone is exquisite, but her melody seems confused by itself. “V: Movement” is the most cohesive track. A plucky double bass plays the main theme in its best iteration on the album. The brass instruments take the listener onto LA Noire's set while the synth is vibrant and haunting. Neufeld captures her best melody so far, a melancholic swoon on the violin.
On “VI: All the Time,” they have settled into the rhythm almost completely. The drums are beautiful and lively here, with some elegant stickwork on the ride cymbal accentuated by tom hits that bounce and whack off of the melody. The double bass on this track is the highlight of the entire album, it is so beautifully played, both its tone and rhythm are incredible. The album lulls on “VII: Colour Fields,” which is the most disorganized and dissonant piece so far. There are some nice electronic flavours to the track, but overall it's random at best.
“VIII: Marking Time” continues the downward trajectory where the strains of such a long improv session take hold, the rudiments are shaky, and the finer details are messy. However, strings help salvage some of the track as they provide an emotional spike to the vocal melody. “IX: Nature That’s It That’s All” wrestles the reins back from musical fatigue and focuses on playing simple ambient music that is truly beautiful. Neufeld plays a beautiful simple melody here, assisted by more soft and searing violins slicing through a rippling synth that guide us towards the close.
“X: Closing” is essentially the outro of “IX: Nature That’s It That’s All” and the end of the album. It’s a valiant and regularly successful attempt at what was essentially an almost hour-long improv session with some components added after the fact. The core structures which allowed Bell Orchestre to create a sonic pallet within which to operate were masterful; however, the finer details and finesse was lacking in some parts. However, some musical purists can interpret this as positive as they manage to capture the fragile nature of music that is played in real-time.