Monday, May 26, 2008

Bell X1 - Flock (2008 in the USA)

Both Bell X1 and Flock, their latest CD, have become huge hits in the band's native Ireland but it's only since the disc's American release in February that they've developed any kind of following on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.

As Bell X1 is probably unfamiliar to most of you a little history is in order. Singer-songwriter Damien Rice was one of the founding members of a band called Juniper in 1991. He left in 1999 due to differences with the band's label early in their recording career. He has since become well known as a solo artist both here and abroad. After Rice departed the remaining four members of Juniper carried on and changed their name to Bell X1, the name given to the jet Chuck Yeager flew when man broke the sound barrier for the first time.

Many Irish bands have a tendency to waive their shamrocks proudly, and while I'm sure the band is proud of their heritage, there is nothing overtly ethnic about Bell X1's music. This does not mean they are making generic rock 'n roll. Lead vocalist Paul Noonan sounds like Coldplay's Chris Martin and fronts a quartet that is adept at writing rhythmic and melodic ditties with very quirky and original lyrics. On the opening track, "Rocky Took A Lover," we are immediately greeted with these unique lines: "She said 'What a wonderful way to wake me/ You weren't so nice last night/ You're such an a**hole when you're drunk'/ He said 'At least I'm OK in the mornings'." On "Bad Skin Day" Noonan sings, When I wake in the morning of a bad skin day, And I can't face my lover on a bad skin day, Am I this alone?"

Bell X1's songs aren't all about the lyrics. There are many prog-rock and electronic flourishes, as well as a piano riff reminiscent of Steely Dan on "My First Born For A Song," that make them just as interesting musically as they are lyrically. Bell X1 is an art rock band that avoids the sub-genre's instinctive pretentiousness because of their ability to create radio friendly pop records. Listen to "Flame" and "Trampoline" as examples. Many in the rock 'n roll press have compared them to Radiohead but my money says these guys are better because they make music that is both intelligent and accessible.

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