Release Date: Apr 12, 2011
Record label: Yep Roc
My first extended exposure to Bell X1 came in 2008 when a pared-down version of the band played a short, impromptu acoustic set opening for pal and fellow Irishman Glen Hansard’s band the Swell Season. It was just guitar and piano, but the duo won over the crowd — myself included. It was pretty. It was quirky.
Taking a page from 2009’s Blue Lights on the Runway, Bell X1’s fifth album continues to mix nervy electronics with anthemic pop/rock, resulting in ten brainy, quirky epics that target the heart as well as the head. Much has been made of Bell X1’s status as the second-biggest band in Ireland, and they certainly sound like it, with songs that swing for the cheap seats and melodies that bear more than a few similarities to the U2 songbook. The group finds a balance between electronic programming and organic instruments on Bloodless Coup, sidestepping the problems that plagued U2’s Pop by using synthesizers and drum machines to enhance, not dominate, the songs.
It’s pretty safe to conclude at this point that remaining members of Juniper (now known as Bell X1) have emerged out of the shadows of “that band that Damien Rice used to be in.” Probably because Damien Rice’s own solo career has taken a nose dive into obscurity—his last album was 9 back in 2006. That’s not to say that Bell X1 has made a monumental name for themselves. Instead, those that gave them a chance based on their past affiliation with Rice have stuck around based on the merits of the band’s own music.
Though they’ve made a sizable impact in their native Ireland, where they’re the second-biggest rock outfit after U2, Bell X1 hasn’t left much of an impression in the U.S., scoring just one Top 10 modern-rock hit. Their fourth studio album, Bloodless Coup, isn’t exactly a game changer for the band in terms of style, so it’s hard to say whether or not it will improve their fortunes with audiences stateside. Considering that Bell X1 falls along the same axis of arena-ready pop as Coldplay and Keane, if they’re planning to stage any kind of coup, it might work to their advantage to bring heavier artillery than what this album has to offer.