Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light
ost of you are probably a little quicker than me and have already figured out that Bell Orchestre shares a couple members with the Arcade Fire (Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld). Which means I'm a little behind, thinking how I should write on this album so that they could get some attention since no one was likely to hear about them and they make nice sounds. But they've got connections, so let me just tell you to forget those connections, because the Arcade Fire aren't a useful touchstone.
I might be rambling more than a Bell Orchestre song title (cf, "recording a tunnel: the horns play underneath the canal"), but the band doesn't when it comes to music. They keep their songs short, but still allow for the openness that we've grown accustomed to in instrumental rock. The group creates this space largely by not creating; their tracks all have room to spare. Less sparse than open, the songs resist the build-and-release structure that most other Montreal acts utilize, and they also refuse to ride a groove or play with distracting orchestration. The sextet simply craft warm sounds, occasionally supplemented with ambient (read: surf) effects.
"Les Lumieres pt. 1" revolves around a basic melody, but each instrument that picks it up adds a subtle twist. Just when you think you've got the motif down, the trumpet adds an extra bar, or the violin throws in an accidental. Accompanied by orchestral percussion, the melodic instruments interweave solos and duets and leave a trail of scattered bells.
"Les Lumieres pt. 2" turns the coastal calm of its predecessor around by diving straight into the rock, albeit with unusual instrumentation. As that track reaches its peak, it transitions into "THROW IT ON A FIRE" (which provides a siren in case you've lost your tracklist). That track gradually gives way to the second version of "recording a tunnel," making a smooth ride back into the soft and melodic. Bell Orchestre structure their whole album, rather than individual songs, around gradual shifts in mood and tempo.
The last third of the album shifts away from rock and toward more classical (dare I say "cinematic") sounds and structures, peaking with "nuevo"'s martial percussion. The song closes with whistling, doubled by a seabird-like effect, easing us back into our quiet mood and making the wind-y synth entrance on "Salvatore Amato" feel natural. Of course, it's just a tease. The bells and violin lead an up-tempo surge, keeping Recording a Tape as intriguing as it is endearing, especially as it returns to full steam for its denouement.
And with that, we settle down with "recording a tunnel: the invisible bells," in which we return to our tunnel one last time. I picture it being the place you land when you exit Malkovich's head. Regardless of where it is, the melody comes back and gradually releases us from the album's grip.
After a false ending and a long silence, we get some dark material, but let's pretend that didn't happen, because, even though there might not be an orchestra or an abundance of bells, this group has already figured out how to structure 45 minutes worth of music, as well as those pesky five-minute segments. Now if we can just work on titles...