Ireland’s Bell X1 should need no introduction. Or, at least, they shouldn’t if you’re Irish, for the band have already amassed three number one albums in their native land and have 17 years worth of history from which to draw. Over here in the UK, meanwhile, their rise has been perhaps of a more gradual nature; they are hardly a household name, after all.
Arms sees the band in reflective mood, if a little cryptic, beginning with ‘Fail Again Fail Better‘, which musically sees the band meet Arcade Fire and Villagers at the crossroads while lyrically, somewhat sinisterly, frontman Paul Noonan muses “I know what I know, Emily, so don’t go punching holes.”
Much of the ensuing sounds are a masterclass in lethargy, though I am using this word in merely a positive context to convey feelings of long hot summer days stretched out on sun loungers, all your worries having been tied up in a loaded knapsack and dumped unceremoniously at the bottom of the sea. Hence sometimes Arms comes over all Prefab Sprout circa Jordan: The Comeback (especially on the tremendous ‘Bring Me A Fire King‘, which contains the splendid lyric “Let’s ask what the markets would do/’cause markets have feelings too/But just might not be in the mood/sitting there, playing stick-man golf on his phone“) and at other times it becomes so celestial that it feels like Clarence the angel from It’s A Wonderful Life has descended upon you to show you that, hey, life’s not so bad after all.
There’s something of an Elbow vibe on the likes of ‘Fake Memory‘, the gorgeous ‘The Upswing’, and album closer ‘The Coalface‘, both relatively dramatic and intense in their build up, though the former emerges as something far more sunny and carefree than you can ever imagine Guy Garvey becoming. Elbow for beach bums perhaps?
Other notable references, should you need further guidance as to how this band sounds, could feasibly be found in Bon Iver or Elliott Smith on ‘Take Your Sweet Time’, but make no mistake, this is a record with a lot of heart, a lot of soul, and some highly entertaining lyrics, though you’ll have to be paying attention in order to hear those, unless you have a high quality magnifying glass with which to read the insert booklet. I tried squinting but decided to give up before it gave me an aneurism.
Anyway, this late in their career, it is quite humbling to see a band still caring enough about their craft to continue putting out albums of such quality.
Arms is out now on Belly Up Records.