CD Review of Blue Lights on the Runway by Bell X1
Bell X1: Blue Lights on the Runway
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Yep Roc
Bell X1:
Blue Lights on the Runway

Reviewed by Neil Carver


ell X1 better break in the States, damn it. For a band that plays to 10,000 in the UK, it must be more than a little tough to play to a group of ten in Newport, KY as an unknown opening act. Despite their third album, Flock, going to Number One across the pond, nobody over here seems to know about them, even after Yep Records reorganized and released it Stateside last year.

Blue Lights on the Runway, their stunning 2009 release, should be that break.

Bell X1 was formed out of the ashes of Juniper, with the more famous Damien Rice leading at the time. What they have done in the last ten years is to define themselves as a truly original band without him... perhaps that "better band" Paul Noonan desires so much on track six of the same name. Blue Lights is a brilliant milestone in that journey.

Comprising ten tracks, none less than four minutes and several over six, Blue Lights is a showcase for collaborative composition, both on individual songs and for the album as a whole. It leads off with three of the best tracks, including the single "How Your Heart Is Wired" sitting in the traditional powerhouse two spot. Each song has a unique minimalist intro, drums or synthesizer, then branches into danceable yet still intimate songs of desire and uncertainty. "How Your Heart" by itself grabs you immediately with its subtle hooks and questioning story of a couple in the "final throes."

Bell X1

Every song shows a different facet of their talents. "Amelia" is an almost lighthearted tale of the possible life of a doomed "tall white girl" that carries itself on the gentle guitar of Dave Geraghty and the quiet waves of layered synths. The only complaint might be that every song is long, giving the album a bit of a meandering feel in the last third. Shortening some of the tracks to provide more of the immediate punch would have helped, but that is a minor quibble. Every song stands on its own, and yet fills a role in the whole of it all.

There is an odd Talking Heads feel to some of the tracks; the aforementioned "A Better Band" and "The Great Defector" reminiscent of Naked-era Heads. Noonan's phrasing is similar at times to the famous Mr. Byrne, but he has a passion and energy that is very different from the intellectual distance of classic DB.

Bell X1 isn't afraid to create music that goes its own way and refuses to wear its influences too openly. It has been indicated that Dave Geraghty, the multi-instrumental genius that was the impetus for the original Juniper to become more than a wedding cover band, is moving on after this album. If that is the case, he clearly left his mark on this collection of songs, because the entire album seems to be an extrapolation of the complex and beautiful "Trampoline," Geraghty's masterpiece from Flock. It would be a shame if he leaves the band at the point where they are in such top form.

I'll say it again. Bell X1 better break it big. Blue Lights on the Runway proves they deserve it.

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