I know how I felt on that Baltic Friday morning at the end of January, one of those terrible mornings where you wish you were still in college, turn over and ignore. Topical at the time was research that highlighted our generation’s obsessive tendencies to check our social media accounts first thing when we wake and last thing before we sleep. Ever the slave to trends I followed suit and at 6:20am noticed an email from a seldom seen contact. Bell X1 had a new album (which we were made aware of in March of 2010) on the cards, some dates scheduled for gigs and a sound cloud preview of their first track “Hey Anna Lena.” I remember the excitement when opening it; see that some people had inserted their comments at certain points in the song. I read them, “nice build” here, “love the kick” in there. When I listened to the track I had that tension balance, that attentive ear and the anticipation of hearing a new favorite. That was as good as it got, bounded anticipation. The song was certainly exploring new boundaries, but it was, quite simply, boring.
That was my first impression and as I went to work invariably deflated yet still planning which date I would go to see Bell X1 on, I went through some of the 170+ songs I have of theirs on my iPod. Some live versions, some unreleased and some of the more forgetful numbers. These include a version of “White water song” that see’s Paul with the rarest error of mixing up his vocals. The great Flock b-sides of “Here she comes” and “Still selling shoes;” my absolute favorite live version of “I’ll see your heart ..” with the Flaming lips “Do you realize” serving as a compelling execution; the “Monkey 61” of Music in Mouth along with my absolute favorite Bell X1 song “Nobody Moves Me” alongside the haunting “U in the Stars.” I suppose the consolation for me was that Bell X1 are not simply confined by what they have released or their studio albums, but defined in equal measure to what they haven’t released.
This was going to be my solace should the seemingly inevitable happen. I also remember the day I downloaded the single “Velcro,” which has all the qualities of the likes of “Blue Lights on the Runway” and in particular “How Your Heart Is Wired” with the colloquial lyrical insight of a semi-buzzed conversation in a pub, with the energy to match it. That’s what I thought had become of the new Bell X1, it’s only semi-buzzed, you never really felt the music was overwhelming you anymore. So when me and Aidan played “Guess what I’ve got,” for a few minutes, ultimately revealing it was Bloodless Coup, I was almost resigned. At that stage the album was reviewer-less and being an avid fan, I of course took it, but with a sense of unease that I might have to defy my 18 year old self and be brutal to the cult band of my early adulthood.
The truth is I wouldn’t have to. The reservations of “Hey Anna Lena” and “Velcro” in isolation were appeased by the collective arrangement that is the follow on from “Blue Lights on the Runway”. The aforementioned album seemed like a more conceptual (yet oddly more commercial) record and its successor is certainly more proficient at not only the use of these new instruments but the arrangement. “Blue Lights On The Runway” had some songs that live were memorable but the construction, presentation and the weaving together of this, in my eyes, was lacking. This record is a real, not just improvement, but accomplishment and for those like me who were concerned regarding “Hey Anna Lena.” With this track in particular it’s important to note that with every extra listen, my recognition for the musical layers of this song have increased based on the relationship the elements have to the song and the overall workability of it. Despite my initial underwhelming impression, I now cannot wait to hear this live. For the doubters it will bring this song to life.
There are also some really fantastic tracks to the album including “4 Minute Mile”, “The Trailing Skirts Of God” & “74 Swans.” but, for everyone on first listen the stand out track, with little doubt, will be “Nightwatchmen.” This is a quite simply brilliant song that not just flirts, but abuses your emotional equilibrium, swinging it and clutching it through building drums and some cryptically enrapturing lyrics. This will not change on returning listens as the song successfully captures a feeling reminiscent you get when you think you see you “that” ex, only to find it’s not her and be left with the residue of “part of me wants to see you crumble” you never really got past. The song seems to have originated straight from the root of others such as “Offshore,” and a more intense “Beautiful Madness.” It’s the one track you will return and return to, and not once be disappointed.
There is always that massive strength of Bell X1’s studio albums seen in “Bloodless Coup”, how relatable it is to you. In that regard, this album is the strongest since “Music In Mouth” and the most important constituent of comparability is time. I’m not sure if it will have the same romance to it as the earlier (and in particular the first two studio albums) records, the meanings of songs change over time and the importance of the album/song is all entangled with what is going on in your life. “Neither Am I” and “Music In Mouth” were albums I could put on again and again, regress effortlessly and remember how me and my then girlfriend held the lyrics of certain songs in such eminent stature. I’m not sure that anything will rival those particular albums for me and that time of my life, but time is what is needed to assess. In another way, that might have nothing to do with the music itself, but the aligning of the variables in your own environment. What does that matter to the album you say? Probably not much, but it’s always one of those qualities that make an album momentous. Apart from how relatable, songs like “Velcro” and “Sugar High” prove the bands greatest strengths, each song could sound as good/better and beautifully dissimilar when stripped down to an acoustic guitar and vocals. This was always the case for anyone who has seen the recent acoustic tours or any Bell X1 gig since their formation. They have an innate and gifted talent at changing the way songs like “Flame”, “Next to You” sound to you, among countless others. That’s not to dispute that there isn’t album confectionery littered through “Bloodless Coup.” Those indulgent, no good for anyone tracks like “Safer than love.” but, for the most part, that luxury is kept to a minimum on an otherwise enduring album.
“Bloodless Coup” is a real return to form from Bell X1 and leaves us with future hope of similar releases. This album will be welcomed into the family of studio albums and to do the final testing relativity test on it in comparison to its older brothers. “Neither Am I” being the eldest, where most hopes are placed and opinions formed, “Music In Mouth” is the lovable trendy eccentric. “Flock” the third in line might never live up to the other two but still had its place in the world and “Blue Lights On The Runway” was the waster of the family (compared to the others). And then there is “Bloodless Coup” which has the detached feel from its brothers as if it was born years after its siblings; it won’t get away with much because of the transgressions of what went before, it’s more mature and has managed to show potential as great as his brothers, if not more. Now to wait for the b-sides, as relentless as it is being a Bell X1 fan, “Bloodless Coup” has left me full of optimism for the next unreleased classics.