When the first Bell Orchestre album "Recording a Tape the Colour of Light" came out, I remember it as being touted an Arcade Fire side project. This was 2005, after all, when you couldn't go two seconds without hearing the "Arcade Fire...awesome...best band....taking over..." Fair enough, I guess. After all, it IS an Arcade Fire-related project. But the Bell Orchestre are more closely related to their fellow instrumentalist Canadians Do Make Say Think or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Unlike DMST, however, the Bell Orchestre has a greater focus on percussion and/or horns (French horn, clarinet, trumpet, and perhaps my favorite, bass saxaphone) rather than guitars. And unlike GY!BE, there is no impending doom. Their first album has a sense of urgency without getting overwhelming, and stradles a fine line between beauty and chaos. With all these ingredients- a member of Arcade Fire, comparisons to heavy-hitting post-rockers, and a sound that is complex-yet-accessible-- you'd think they'd be an underground success, right? But when "Recording a Tape the Colour of Light" came out it was largely ignored, and I haven't heard mention of the band since. Again, I must say, the music industry is a fortuitous and fickle mistress.
Fortunately, the band is soon releasing a new album called "As Seen Through Windows." This album is similar in style to their first LP, though they've taken a step away from the urgency that was so pressing in "Recording a Tape the Colour of Light" and decided to build open planes of sound instead. They make better use of the band as a whole this time around instead of stringing together short solos for each instrument. This allows for a denser record that doesn't feel suffocating, but rather ephemeral and lilting. Think Rachel's, think Efterklang, think Sigur Ros with horns in place of vocals. It's music for late snowy nights, warm baths, and slow, slow death.
The title track:
Bell Orchestre - As Seen Through Windows
The music video for "Throw It On A Fire" (from "Recording a Tape the Colour of Light"):