Such has been Arcade Fire’s hypnosis of music hacks that their name has damn near become a synonym for anything that errs towards the introspective, anything that falls under the emotionally poignant chamber rock radar.
Yet, despite counting three members of said band among their total rank of six, Montreal’s Bell Orchestre are an entirely different musical proposition to Win Butler and his gang.
That much is made clear from the outset with the ghostly horns and waves of indiscriminate background noise that form opening track, Stripes.
What’s more, Bell Orchestre are an instrumental band. And it is with second track, Elephants, that they begin to scrawl their songwriting blueprint. If any rigid form can be put around their wayward experimentalism, that is.
Elephants is a jubilant eight-minute slab of off-kilter experimentalism, replete with delightful string and horn intricacies. In fact, if there’s one thing that Bell Orchestre do share with Arcade Fire, it’s the ability to craft utterly stunning melodies that seemingly appear from nowhere before nestling perfectly into meticulously crafted aural vistas.
Having a pretty melody is one thing. Knowing where to put it and how to weave it through intelligent arrangements is quite another, and it’s something that Bell Orchestre have a captivating aptitude for. A triumph made all the more salient by the fact that this music is entirely instrumental.
There are no vocal hooks to work from, no front man to follow, and traditional songwriting structures have no place here. It’s about music that journeys its listener through enchanting soundscapes with the use of carefully arranged motifs and intelligent dynamics.
To this end, As Seen Through Windows draws stark parallels with classical composition. Indeed, the breathtaking Icicles/Bicycles and album closer Air Lines/Land Lines would sound more at home in The Royal Albert Hall than the rock clubs of Montreal.
But aligned with this classical charisma is a ruthless experimentalism. Try the bone-smashing drums that summon the ceremonial fanfares of Elephant, or The Gaze with its boisterously wonky Mariachi brass and breakneck rhythms. What about the smatterings of electronica that tease the writhing discord of Bucephalus Bouncing Ball? It’s all brilliantly different. That this experimentalism occasionally brings the album down, as with Water/Light/Shifts, is but a minor footnote.
As Seen Through Windows concludes with Air Lines/Land Lines, an 11 minute epic that seems to constantly flirt with atonality, and somehow manages to find middle ground between heartwarming and harrowing.
For originality, heart stopping beauty, and sheer class of musicianship, this is an album that demands tremendous respect and deserves hefty accolade.