Irleand based Bell X1 are to release their new album Chop Chop on July 1 (UK & Europe) which was produced by Peter Katis & Thomas Bartlett better known to most as Doveman who frequently collaborates with Sam Amidon.
“From the moment I heard demos, I knew this was a special batch of songs, nestled in the sweet spot between wistfulness and joy,” explains Thomas Bartlett, who oversaw Bell X1’s sixth album alongside the National’s longtime producer (Peter Katis). “The challenge was in making the songs rich and robust without losing the fragility and intimacy that made them so striking in the first place.”
The new albums takes a shift in sonic space to a simpler approach which is described as “nothing but reverb-trailed riffs, wildly expressive vocals and delicately layered rhythms.” The results speak very clearly on ‘Starlings Over Brighton Pier’ from the skittering drums and looping piano, they form the perfect meditative backdrop for Paul Noonan’s incredible soaring vocals.
Furthering each track’s inherent tightness were Bartlett and Katis, co-producers who deserve sidemen credits for coloring outside the lines, nipping and tucking the sound of the thing. “I had seen Thomas play a few times with The Gloaming, and was really struck by what he brought to what I suppose is an Irish traditional music supergroup—less yellowing pints of stout in harsh light, more velvet furnishings and fine wine,” explains Noonan. “And the skill with which Peter places elements in the mix is truly a marvel. He made us feel like he was as invested in this as we are.”
The feeling was mutual, as the group embraced their long overdue live/work situation overseas, recording the album at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, CT. “I can’t remember the last time I was part of a record that was recorded, mixed and mastered in only two weeks,” says Katis. “The guys came in really prepared song-wise and performance-wise. We had a ‘live’ setup of drums, bass and upright piano all in the same room—tracking to tape, going for full takes. It was a slightly old-fashioned approach, without the usual digital safety net, and I think that energy comes across in the music.”
“We returned to simpler times,” adds Noonan, “when all around here was fields. Shrink the palette, you know? Chop chop!”
The album artwork was recently revealed (main image) which is the work of Alexis Deacon. It was Deacons book and accompanying illustrations titled Croc and Bird that struck a chord with Paul Noonan that then led him to make contact. Paul explains “He was very graciously open to listening to our demos and sketched a world of misfits from them – bird-boys, carny-dogs & snake-ladies. As we were in the studio he was sending us these images, and glowing from laptops they made themselves at home.
“We met Alexis when we played in London earlier this year, and he made sketches of us on stage from which he based three of the characters on the cover…not quite sure who’s who, though someone’s trouser must have been worn far too high!”