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April 27, 2009

Bell Orchestre – As Seen Through Windows (Arts & Crafts)

This second full-length from Montréal-based ensemble Bell Orchestre is not too far off from their first (2005’s Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light) in some ways, but it is a more confident, sturdier-sounding effort. The components are the same: horns, strings, percussion, and some sampled/prepared material (also some voices this time around), but the energy behind it all has developed. The group itself has developed since 2005, gaining more recognition as its own thing, rather than a side project.

They do still carry the Arcade Fire name around with them (even though they actually predate Arcade Fire), and with Mike Feuerstack becoming more of a permanent member since the last record, there are another couple of band names added to the biography. What they do as Bell Orchestre, though, has little relation to any of the members’ other pursuits, or to much else on the current Canadian scene, for that matter. The group has staked out territory between the realms of contemporary classical and post-rock, and they have received a good deal of attention in North America and Europe, placing them in an important position within Canadian avant music, with access to both pop and experimental audiences.

Like their debut album, this one is driven mainly by strings, with horns swelling in and pre-recorded sounds plinking around, but it sounds a bit more directed, overall. What Bell Orchestre does is not typical post-rock ensemble strolling. This record is much livelier than that, and is full of strange melodies and flourishes. Given the fact that this was put out on Arts & Crafts and promoted like any of the label’s other releases, it’s been given equal footing on the pop stage, which is a good thing. One gets the sense that, for a contemporary Canadian ensemble, this group is venturing into mostly uncharted space.

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