I've been championing the music of Bell X1 since I came across the U.S. release of "Flock" in 2008. Now that I've seen them live twice, and caught up on their earlier work that was not released Stateside, they've become one of those essential bands for me whose every new release is met with great anticipation. They've rewarded my enthusiasm with "Bloodless Coup", their fifth, and finest, studio album to date.
Bell X1 enjoyed their biggest success in the U.S. with 2009's "Blue Lights On The Runway", spurred on by the hit single "The Great Defector" which scored them their first major radio play in America. The song brought calls of comparison to Talking Heads, something the band acknowledges, but Bell X1 have also been mentioned as similar to Coldplay and even Radiohead.
Some of the tracks on "Bloodless Coup" did immediately make me think of some of Thom Yorke's solo material on "The Eraser", with the heavy use of glitchy electronics. Make no mistake, this is a different sounding album from their first four. They've taken the blueprint from the previous album's "How Your Heart Is Wired" and expanded it here, with many songs featuring electronic beats, fuzzed out keyboards and all manner of electronic effects. But Bell X1's penchant for pop perfection still lies at the heart of these songs.
The album impresses right from the start with my favorite track here, "Hey Anna Lena". Opening with a rolling drum loop and electronic blips and bloops, the song is sparse at first but starts to build at the halfway point with atmospheric keyboards, heavy live drums and Paul Noonan's soaring vocal work. It joins the ranks of the band's finest tracks to date.
First single "Velcro" features a buzzy keyboard and killer bass line and more of Noonan's sharp lyrical wit. "Watching a six year old on YouTube/Playing drums to Billie Jean/This is the stuff that binds us/This and all those Dairy Queens", he sings, shining his light on our social media age. On "Haloumi", Noonan goes to his falsetto to call out how "we feed the machine/Buying all this shit that nobody needs", then he mocks complacency and mediocrity, while simultaneously celebrating them, on "4 Minute Mile".
"Sugar High" also follows the blueprint of opening with glitchy electronics and a drum machine beat but quickly evolves into the album's most danceable track. The only real mis-step is "Safer Than Love", a fully electronic track which leans towards the dull side with a repetitive keyboard riff and drum machine claps.
For those looking for songs more along the lines of the "old" Bell X1 sound, there is "Nightwatchmen", a more standard guitar/bass/drums ballad that shines beautifully. Once again ballads are a strong point as on past releases. "Built To Last" is a sparse acoustic number with a quiet pumping drum beat while "The Trailing Skirts Of God" boasts a gorgeous melody driven along by a prominent piano. And I can't leave out album closer "74 Swans" either, another quieter, standard ballad that would have fit on earlier Bell X1 releases.
Bell X1 have found a loyal fan base in the States, although as is the case with so many bands, they deserve an even larger listening audience. "Velcro" is as radio friendly as "The Great Defector" was, it would be nice to see radio continue to give the band support here. Even if it doesn't find a lot of radio airplay, "Bloodless Coup" is worthy of your attention. I can't wait to hear this material performed live. The mixture of tracks with the classic Bell X1 sound and the newer direction they've taken makes it their best full length so far.