Montreal’s Bell Orchestre is composed of one-half Arcade Fire members, two thirds of the Luyas, and Mike Feuerstack (who also records solo and as a member of other groups). I’ve got to stop with the links and ties there as I intended to write a nice intro piece on the humble beginnings of Bell Orchestre and Arcade Fire sharing studio space whilst recording the debut albums, as well as the Montreal music scene and the breeding ground it is for all these wonderfully inventive groups with a million part-time members. But I tried to top up with my knowledge of Montreal bands and other Canadian and North American part-time super groups and I just couldn’t keep up. Broken Social Scene, Spencer Krug and the Arcade Orchestre community will just have to wait—the whole thing warrants pages of connotations and diagrams to make any sense of it…and I will treat myself to this project someday.
The six-member Bell Orchestre play experimental chamber music, you could even say their less accessible pieces are a bit avant garde, quite a distance from their day jobs (for half of them selling out massive venues around the world with Arcade Fire). As Seen Through Windows is their second album, arriving four years after their debut Recording a Tape the Colour of Light. And even though it’s an obvious progression to an even more far reaching sound this time, you could see both Recording a Tape… and As Seen Through… making a nicely packaged and coherent double album as they both possess the same haunting charm that not only sets them apart from their Montreal peers and indie hang-outs, but would also set a standard in classical circles.
I don’t want to set any pointless levels of praise on As Seen Through Windows as, for all that I liked about it, it has what some might consider pointless moments that felt like more like clever pieces of instrument interplay than pieces of music, but when they got into the groove it was breathtaking. Take track two, “Elephants,” for example, with what I think is a detuned violin played in its own high pitched world backed by cellos, deep bass and trumpets. Then there’s track three, the brilliantly titled “Icicles Bicycles” with finger picked cello (I think, again)…and that’s the beauty of it right there, the obvious classical instruments are not being played in an obvious, conventional classical way. It’s a cacophony of finger picking, detuned magic.
I got to like this album more the more I listened to it, the harder going moments of it becoming pieces to admire and understand, rather than the ones I tried to ignore whilst waiting for the more accessible pieces. Closing track “Air Lines Land Lines” could be a modern classic and part of some music school curriculum with its 12-minute combination of beautiful melody and masterful musicianship. This is high quality 21st century classical music for both indie and classical music tastes, and this band certainly emphasizes the `Orchestre’ in their title.
Godspeed! You Black Emperor – Yanqui U.X.O.
Rachel’s – Systems/Layers
The Books – The Lemon of Pink